Nevada Union youth program claims first title since 1994
With the SVUSA North Division Midget Division championship on the line Saturday in Lincoln, the Nevada Union Jr. Miners and Bear River Jr. Bruins left everything they had on the football field in a thrilling gridiron classic.
At first it looked like the Jr. Bruins (9-2) were poised to claim the title, leading 28-14 mid-way through the fourth quarter, but a furious comeback by the Jr. Miners (9-2) saw NU outscore Bear River 15-0 in the final five minutes of the game to claim the title in improbable fashion, 29-28.
“This is a special group because they have believed in everything we have done since day one,” Nevada Union head coach Dennis Houlihan said. “They didn’t even look at the scoreboard, and as soon as we had a couple of those big kickoff returns, we knew we were still in it. Our defense knew they had to give us a chance at the end, and our offense moved the ball very well tonight.”
The Jr. Bruins took a 20-6 lead late in the third quarter when running back Austin Baze scored his third touchdown on the day, a 53-yard run highlighted by a forceful stiff arm that sprung the talented back.
Baze finished the day with a game-high 182 yards on 17 carries. Bear River also got 69 rushing yards from Zach Rubey.
Nevada Union promptly answered with a 70-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Dawson Fay.
With the Bear River lead cut down to six at the start of the fourth quarter, the Jr. Bruins went to work on the clock. But on fourth-and-5 at about midfield, the Jr. Miner defense stopped Bear River and took over on offense. It would be short-lived though as Bear River’s Clay Corripo picked off an errant pass with just over six minutes remaining in the game.
A few plays later, Corripo, Bear River’s strong-armed quarterback, hit Cameron Johnson, who had beat the NU secondary deep for a 42-yard touchdown. Corripo finished the day 4-for-9 for 95 yards and the one touchdown.
With a two-touchdown advantage, Bear River kicked away from Faye. NU’s Tyler Nielson fielded the ball, made some impressive moves and was off to the races, returning the kick for a touchdown. But along with several Jr. Bruins left in his wake was a yellow flag, and the play was called back for an illegal block.
Undeterred by the set back the Jr. Miners went to work. NU’s quarterback, Owen Dal Bon, hit a streaking Nielson up the sideline for a 35-yard pass taking the Jr. Miners down to the 5-yard line.
Dal Bon finished the game 5-of-10 for 90 yards.
On third-and-goal from the seven-yard line, the Jr. Miners dipped into their bag of tricks and pulled out a half-back pass. Dal Bon took the snap, turned and got the ball into Nielson’s hands, and as the Jr. Bruin defense collapsed on him, he tossed the ball to the back of the end zone and into the soft hands of Jack Fraser for the score.
“We run the same exact plays we do on varsity,” Houlihan said. “I’ve been coaching these guys for a while, and they don’t even hesitate. They executed and did it with confidence.”
Quarterback Dal Bon said he was confident in the play call as soon as it was relayed into the huddle.
“I just wanted to score,” Dal Bon said. “I knew it was going to be wide open. I knew their corners would jump it, and it would be wide open, and it was.”
Dal Bon would kick the extra point, bringing NU to within six at 28-22. In youth football, a kicked extra-point is worth two points as it considered harder than running the ball in.
With 4 minutes and 42 seconds left in the game, NU attempted an onside kick, which was handled perfectly by Bear River. The Jr. Bruins then looked to run the clock out, but an impressive effort by NU’s Hayden Fay to strip the ball loose while making a solo tackle gave NU new life. NU’s Jace Wheeler scooped up the loose ball, and the Jr. Miners were back in business with just over four minutes remaining.
With all the momentum and confidence on their side, the Jr. Miners moved the ball with ease. NU moved into Bear River territory, and then a Dawson Fay 19-yard run put the Miners inside the 10-yard line.
A couple plays later, with 1:26 left in the game, Fay scored from 4 yards out on a pitch play. Fay led the Miners with 132 yards and two total touchdowns. Justin Houlihan also added 49 yards on four carries, including the Jr. Miners’ first touchdown, a 1-yard run in the first quarter.
With the game knotted at 28, NU sent out its kick team, but coach Houlihan quickly changed his mind, called a timeout and sent his offense back out. Again, it was Fay using his size and speed to bring the Jr. Miners points. Fay took the pitch, found the hole and plunged in for the eventual game-winner.
“I just saw Dawson fight for that extra yard,” Justin Houlihan said. “He got wrapped up but still got in. Feels great to be a champion.”
The Jr. Bruins made a courageous attempt to snatch the win back from NU, moving the ball all the way down to the 15-yard line, but simply ran out of time.
“They never quit,” Bear River head coach Jeff Smith said. “We had 1:17 to go down the field, and they gave everything they had. We have to call a lot of timeouts because we only have 18 kids, and we have to figure them in to get these kids rested and get water, and we could have used one at the end there.
“There was no quit. We had a few lapses on special teams, and we hadn’t had that all year, but Nevada Union played hard. They came out and played hard, and my boys matched it.”
For the Jr. Miner program, it is the first championship in 19 years.
“This just begins to restore the culture that we once had of winning and dominating in this program,” Jr. Miners President Mark Swasey said. “We here at the youth program, our job is to prepare these kids for the next level and make sure they are successful on and off the field at the high school. So to have the wherewithal to comeback in a game like this is what it’s all about. It’s character building. It’s changing the culture in this program where for so many years losing was accepted, and it’s not anymore. We are so so proud of the boys tonight.”
Coming up big for the Miners defensively wwew Drew Heaps as he wreaked havoc on the defensive line, Owen Day, who tallied several tackles, including a sack during the Jr. Bruins final drive, and Garrett Graves, who did a strong job in the NU secondary. Cole Anderson and Luke Cornish were both integral to the NU win.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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