Miners ‘must win’ to keep playoff hope alive | TheUnion.com

Miners ‘must win’ to keep playoff hope alive

Despite dropping its last three games and staring at an 0-3 record in the Sierra Foothill League standings, the Nevada Union Miners know they still have a shot at securing a spot in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.

But the margin of error is essentially zero.

The Miners (4-4 overall) must have two league victories in order to be eligible for the postseason, so there’s no doubt about what NU needs to happen in its final two games of the regular-season campaign, beginning with tonight’s matchup with the Woodcreek Timberwolves.

“This is a must-win for both teams,” NU coach Dave Humphers said. “We have to win out to make the playoffs, and so does Woodcreek.”

Woodcreek (4-4 overall, 0-3 SFL) has followed a similar path through the season as the Miners. A strong preseason slate that produced a 4-1 record, including a 35-7 win over Bear River on Sept. 17, as the T’wolves headed for SFL action.

And like the Miners, Woodcreek has gone winless in three tries.

Aside from last week’s 31-13 loss to Rocklin (6-2, 2-1), the T’wolves had a chance to win both of its other defeats in league play.

Woodcreek led 22-21 through three quarters in the SFL opener against Roseville, but the Tigers scored on a 35-yard run and added a two-point conversion to take the game. One week later, the Timberwolves were turned away by Granite Bay in a 31-28 loss decided by a 38-yard fourth-quarter field goal.

After dropping its SFL opener at Granite Bay 45-32, Nevada Union lost a pair of gut-wrenching defeats by a single score at Del Oro (14-10) and at Roseville (34-27).

Despite the three-game losing skid, Humphers has been encouraged by his team’s demeanor when the Miners have returned to work each week following the disappointing defeats.

“We had a great practice (Monday), after three tight losses in a row,” Humphers said. “We could easily, with a few plays going the other way, could be 8-0. And our kids know it.

“I still believe we can pull it off. We just have to keep improving and keep getting better.”

Hoping to extend their season into the postseason, the Miners are focused only on Woodcreek at this point, Humphers said, although the season finale will bring defending league champion Rocklin to Hooper Stadium the following Friday night.

“Woodcreek is a real good team,” Humphers said. “They run out of a pro-T set with multiple formations. They’ve got 6-2, 205-pound, real-strong back. They’re really athletic – they’ve got probably got the fastest quarterback we’ll face this year – and they’re just a solid, talented team.

“You can tell why they’ve been a contender all year.”

That big back, senior Blake Cervantes, leads the T’wolves in rushing with 960 yards and nine touchdowns. That speedy quarterback, Shaun Mize, has completed 68-of-117 passing for 1,024 yards and 14 touchdowns against three interceptions. He’s also rushed for 254 yards and four scores.

Mize’s top targets have been tight end Brandon Whitebear (15 catches, 316 yards, 4 TD) and wide receiver Dylan Zuverink (16-326, 4 TD).

Defensive end Steven Meyer leads Woodcreek in tackles with 60 total stops with three quarterback sacks and a fumble recovery. Zuverink is the top defensive back, intercepting four passes on the season.

For Nevada Union, senior halfback Devyn Grimes and junior fullback Connor Keith lead the way with the ground game. Grimes has gained 905 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, while Keith has racked up 829 yards and 13 scores.

Quarterback Josiah Paye, a junior, has completed 50-of-110 passes for 744 yards and six touchdowns with eight interceptions. The top targets for Paye, who has also rushed for 218 yards and two touchdowns, have been senior Brock Kraus (20-304, 3 TD) and Grimes (15-236, 2 TD).

Sophomore linebacker Tanner Vallejo leads the team in tackles with 102 total, including 69 solo stops and two sacks. Senior defensive back Josh Cena has four interceptions, while juniors Gabe Humphers and Brandon Loper each have intercepted two passes.

Contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton via e-mail at bhamilton@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4240.

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