PREP FOOTBALL: After finding success on the road, Miners gear up for home bout with River City
Know & Go
What: Nevada Union (2-1) vs. River City (1-3)
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Hooper Stadium, Nevada Union High School
Follow along: On Twitter @WalterLFordIII or on the radio at 830 AM (KNCO)
It’s been nearly a month since Nevada Union’s varsity football team played a game at Hooper Stadium. The Miners have learned a lot about themselves during their time on the road.
“Going into the Yuba City game we were still trying to find our identity,” said head coach Brad Sparks, whose team lost its home opener to the Honkers, 31-12.
After an overtime win at Napa, a bye week and a blowout victory Harbor (Santa Cruz), the Miners are starting to find their stride as they gear up for their first home game since Aug. 23.
“The Napa game was what really turned the tides for us, and now our sails and ship are going the right direction,” said Sparks. “The Napa game is where it really changed. We quickly realized we can run the spread offense, but we are a spread-run team.”
There are several reasons for the Miners’ success the past two games, but none more obvious than their bruising defense and strong offensive line play.
“Where our team really shines right now is with our defense and how well we block up front,” said Sparks. “Our offensive lineman, not only run blocking but also pass blocking, are doing a really good job.”
The Miners up front paved the way for an NU offense that produced 283 rush yards against Napa and 429 rush yards against Harbor.
NU’s offensive line is comprised of center David Rueckert (6-foot, 265-pounds), guards Sammy Slay (5-9, 185) and Kyler Case (6-0, 220), and tackles Ezra Tout (6-1, 250) and Isaiah Carter (6-5, 350).
Strong play up front has opened up running lanes for NU’s stable of backs, which has taken full advantage. Leading the NU ball carriers is junior running back Jaxon Horne, who has 402 rush yards and six touchdowns through three games. With running back Tino Sanchez-Lane and fullback/quarterback Gabe Baker also getting into the mix, the Miners boast a formidable ground attack to go with a passing game that has steadily improved each game.
“We’re getting to the point now, where we’re going to be able to throw the ball a little more,” said Sparks. “Both quarterbacks are starting to see the field a little bit better.”
Junior quarterback J.T. Conway had his best game of the season last week, throwing for 90 yards and a touchdown, and scoring another on the ground. Baker, a sophomore who splits time with Conway, completed just one pass last week, but ran for a team-high 174 yards and two touchdowns.
Looking to halt the Miners offense will be the visiting River City Raiders (1-3), who come into Hooper Stadium fresh off their first win of the season, a 34-21 victory over Rodriguez (Fairfield).
“They are probably, team wise, twice as fast as we are,” said Sparks. “They’ve got guys that can run. They fly around the field. They got athletes. So, our job is all about containing those athletes.”
Charged with the task of containing the Raiders offense is a stingy Nevada Union defense. After giving up three touchdowns in the season opener, NU’s defense has allowed only two touchdowns the past two games.
Leading the defensive charge up front has been defensive ends Matt Dal Bon and Nathaniel Ward.
“Really excited about what Ward and Dal Bon are doing,” said Sparks. “Those two defensive ends have probably been the biggest shining spot for us.”
Ward and Dal Bon lead an NU pass rush that has combined for eight sacks coming from seven different players. The Miners also have nine forced turnovers (six interceptions, three fumble recoveries) so far.
River City hosted Nevada Union a season ago with the Miners grabbing a 53-21 victory. Horne had 192 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in that game.
The Raiders are coming off a 2018 season in which they went 2-8 overall.
Tonight is Heroes Night at Hooper Stadium, and the football program will be honoring law enforcement, fire and EMS personnel, and members of the military before the game.
“Its important that we honor, not just our police force and firemen, but also our military,” said Sparks. “That’s part of the reason we go out to Beale (Air Force Base) every year for our team photos. It’s important for our team to understand the people that make those types of sacrifices for us to have the freedoms and safety that we have today.”
Nevada Union’s varsity bout with River City gets going at 7 p.m., tonight. The junior varsity game gets going at 5 p.m.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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