NU backs triple trouble
It’s Friday night.
Imagine you’re in the cleats of a defensive player about to face Nevada Union and its high-octane running game.
In the four days before the game, you, along with the rest of the defensive unit, have drilled and practiced and drilled some more on the finer points of stopping NU’s Wing-T.
So, kickoff comes and goes. Your defense takes the field as NU sets up deep in their territory.
The ball is snapped. Quick, which running back do you key on?
Is it NU’s leading rusher, fullback Vu Pham? Or, maybe the Metro Conference’s second leading scorer, right halfback Joey Bratton. Don’t forget about the left halfback, NU’s second leading receiver, Chris Thibodeau.
Confused? That’s just the way NU head coach Dave Humphers likes it.
“With the three running backs we have, we’re probably the most balanced we’ve ever been,” he said. “They’re all fast, elusive and have the ability to score a touchdown on any given play.”
“They’re unselfish. They really take pride in their blocking and fakes, and that’s a really difficult part of the game. They all give a great effort whether they have the ball or not,” he added.
“If we’re running a play for Joey, he knows he can expect us to read (the defense) and block really well for him. It’s the same thing if we run the play for me or Vu. We all work really well together,” the senior said.
At 5-foot-5, Pham is the probably the last guy you’d ask to grab a can of peas off the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard, but point him toward a football field and watch him go to work.
The 170-pound senior, third in the Metro Conference in rushing with 663 yards on 77 carries with eight touchdowns this season, excels in short yardage situations, but has speed to turn a routine play into six points.
The best example of that was in NU’s 71-0 home field rout of C.K. McClatchy Oct. 18. NU was on its own 20-yard-line when Humphers called Pham’s number on a run-of-the-mill dive play. Pham burst through the line, then outran the defense 80 yards for the score.
“They’re all quick, but Vu has the fastest 40-meter time (at 4.4 seconds),” Humphers said.
“Deception is a big part of our offense and with Vu being relatively short, it’s not only hard for a defender to find the ball, it’s hard to find him.”
Bratton and Thibodeau-who are equally dangerous at rushing or receiving – have given opposing defensive coordinators headaches all season.
Bratton, the league’s second leading scorer with 84 points, has all the skills.
“Joey has that great vision along with speed and great hands. He reminds me of Jefferson (Heidelberger) the way he glides when he runs,” Humphers said. “It seems like if it isn’t Chris making a big play for us, it’s Joey. It’s really nice to have two halfbacks like Joey and Chris because it makes it really tough for the defense to focus on one person.”
Thibodeau, whose 75-yard touchdown reception broke open NU’s 35-9 preseason win over Elk Grove, attributed the success of the running game to the offensive line, and especially the coaching staff.
“I give a lot of the credit to the coaches. Coach (Joey) Montoya and coach (John) Miller focus on all of the little things in our running, blocking and faking. They won’t accept anything less than the best we can be,” he said.
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EL DORADO — Nevada Union’s up and down season continued Friday night as the Miners struggled mightily in a 41-7 loss to the Union Mine Diamondbacks.