Nevada Union opens playoffs vs.Franklin
Who: No. 16 Nevada Union vs. No. 1 Franklin (Elk Grove)
What: First round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs
When: 7 p.m., today
Where: Consumnes Oaks High School
Directions: see http://cifsjs.org
Last week: Nevada Union (5-5, 2-3 SFL) lost to Granite Bay, 38-7. Franklin (10-0, 5-0 DVL) defeated Monterey Trail 28-6.
It was a year ago, almost to the day, that the Nevada Union football team walked off the field rain-soaked and defeated at the hands of Franklin (Elk Grove).
The Wildcats rolled into Hooper Stadium as the No. 9 seed and upset the Miners, thrashing them 41-16 in the first round of the 2011 Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs.
It’s a memory NU senior offensive and defensive lineman Cameron Townsend remembers well.
“I vividly remember them being out here and rushing onto our field,” Townsend said. “Just hearing them yelling, ‘Franklin,’ over and over, and that’s been tearing me up all week … Some of the coaches say, ‘Don’t worry about last year. Worry about this year,’ but this is just the way I am.”
This year, the No. 16 seeded Miners (5-5 overall, 2-3 Sierra Foothill League) are the underdogs and will travel to Cosumnes Oaks High School to take on the top-seeded Wildcats (10-0 overall, 5-0 Delta Valley League).
The opportunity to return the favor from last year has Townsend, senior captain Tanner Vallejo and the rest of the Miners thinking upset in the first round.
“We got nothing to lose now,” said Vallejo. “We can go in and take some chances … We are going in to try and get the win.”
If the Miners plan on upsetting the top team in the section, they will need to stop the talented and bruising run game of the Wildcats.
“(Franklin) has a tremendous offense,” NU head coach Dave Humphers said. “They’re good at running back and wide receiver, and their quarterback throws a nice ball. I look at them and don’t see any weaknesses.”
The Wildcats leaned on junior running backs Christian Fonbuena and Kyran Harris in the playoff game last season. The two accounted for 100 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over the Miners. This season, Fonbuena and Harris are seniors and head up a Wildcat rushing attack that eats up 224.7 yards per game.
Franklin has three running backs who have at least 500 yards this season and have combined for 42 rushing touchdowns, 12 coming from Harris.
“We just got to hit them,” Vallejo said of how the Miners will slow the Wildcat run game. “If we hit them enough it might make them not want to hit back. We need to slow them down before they hit the hole. That’s what were going to do. We’re going to hit.”
Wide receivers Trevon Lampley and Dionte Young, who beat the Miners for big passing plays last season, are both back for their senior years. Lampley and Young are joined by Damion Sanders to make up the receiving core for Franklin. The three have accounted for all seven of the Wildcat receiving touchdowns.
For the Miners, Kyle Cota will get his second crack at the very talented Franklin defense. Cota threw for 280 yards and a pair of touchdowns in last season’s loss. This season, Cota led the SFL in passing yards with 2,384 yards. Cota has also thrown 20 touchdowns to only four interceptions this season.
Cota’s main target, Ian Davis, will likely get plenty of looks, as the 6-foot, 3-inch senior leads the section in receptions (70) and receiving yards (1,237). Davis is second in the SFL with 10 touchdowns.
The Miner offense will need to be firing on all cylinders if it hopes to poke holes in a staunch Wildcat defense.
“They are great on defense,” Humphers said. “They are super quick and aggressive and play really hard. They play the old Buddy Ryan 4-6 defense and do it extremely well.”
Franklin’s defense is allowing a meager 11.3 points per game this season and has held its last four opponents under 10 points per game.
“We been breaking them down piece by piece,” Townsend said, “looking at film and finding places where we can exploit them.”
The Miner run game has been non-existent the last two games, garnering 159 yards combined for both contests.
“We need to pound the ball,” Vallejo said. “They pride themselves on good defense, and they can stop the run. We just got to fire off the ball, and we need to move them. If we move them, we will move the ball effectively.”
NU is averaging 140 yards per game on the ground and 238 through the air this season. In the Miners’ five wins this season, they averaged 184.6 on the ground. In their losses, they averaged just 95.8 yards per game.
The mood was loose and fun at NU’s Wednesday practice. The Miners practiced hard and were focused but seemed to play unhindered by the pressure of high expectations. NU looked crisp it they ran through its practice, ending the night with several spirited battles on the hitting sled.
“Franklin is 10-0 and the No. 1 seed,” Humphers said. “We’ve had a good week of practice and I really feel like we’re ready to play.”
The All-Sierra Foothill League team was announced Thursday with 13 Miners getting honored.
Vallejo was named the SFL’s defensive MVP. Cota, Davis, center Eli Butcher, linebacker Miguel Espinosa and linebacker Hank Humphers made the All-SFL First Team. Second team honors went to tight end Austin Marks, kicker Braaten Sill, Townsend, safety Gareth Noxon and defensive lineman Terry Graham. Honorable Mention honors went to defensive lineman T.J. Hart and offensive lineman Davi Pettinato.
To contact Sports Writer Walter Ford, call (530) 477-4232 or email him at email@example.com.
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