PREP FOOTBALL: Nevada Union looks to make statement in Sierra Foothill League opener
KNOW & GO
What: Nevada Union (2-2) vs. Rocklin (3-1)
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday
Where: Hooper Stadium, Nevada Union High School
After a non-league schedule that featured four highly competitive games and two victories, the Miners are ready and confident as they open Sierra Foothill League play tonight.
“We’re very confident,” said Nevada Union football head coach Dennis Houlihan. “I think we’ve done enough in the preseason to show that we can compete with teams… We’re going into this game confident we’re going to win.”
With a 2-2 start against a strong group of non-league opponents, the Miners enter tonight’s homecoming game looking to make a statement.
“Absolutely,” Houlihan said. “I think it would be a huge statement if we can come out, play well and come away with a win.”
Rocklin (3-1) comes into Hooper Stadium riding a three game win streak this season, and a four-game win streak over the Miners. The last time NU beat Rocklin on the gridiron was 2011 when the Miners topped the Thunder 30-27 in overtime, getting 125 rush yards and two touchdowns from Tanner Vallejo.
If the Miners hope to end their losing streak against Rocklin, they will need to get their running game going and be more consistent on offense, said Houlihan.
“I personally think our offense has to continue to get better,” said Houlihan. “We’re not very consistent right now. Balanced? Yes. But, at crucial times, when we’ve had chances to put points on the board and really pull away from teams we’re not doing it. I would like to see us finish those drives off.”
One of Nevada Union’s most consistent offensive threats has been junior Tyler Nielson, who has topped the century mark in two games this season and leads the team with 378 rush yards. Nielson is averaging 6.4 yards per carry and has been impressive with his hard running style.
“I don’t care if there’s anything there, he’s going to make something happen,” said Houlihan. “Most of his yards last week were after contact. He’s a two-year guy there. He feels confident there, and he wants the ball.”
The Miners are averaging 177 yards per game on the ground thanks to Nielson, Dawson Fay (202 rush yards, four touchdowns) and Justin Houlihan (107 rush yards).
Through the air, Nevada Union has shown big play capability but has yet to top the 200 yard mark in any game this season. Junior Owen Dal Bon has done well so far in his first year as the starter, completing 29-for-58 passes for 510 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.
On defense, Nevada Union will have their hands full with the Rocklin passing attack, which is led by sophomore Cade Wyant.
“They’re definitely going to throw,” said Dennis Houlihan. “Even though they’re going full time with a sophomore quarterback, they’re still a throw first team. They’re run game is pretty simple, it’s a zone read thing. But, we got to be able to stop their pass first.”
How important is it for NU to come out strong defensively?
“It’s the most important thing,” said NU senior linebacker Grady McCuen, who has 25 tackles this season, including four for a loss. “We need to stop the runs and get momentum shifting toward us. Make sure they don’t get anything good going and get turnovers.”
The Rocklin offense does do most of its damage through the air, averaging 198.5 pass yards per game and just 96.5 yards rushing. Leading Rocklin’s ground attack is 6-foot, 205-pound senior Brenden Rakela, who has a team best 272 rush yards. As a team, Rocklin is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and have just three rushing touchdowns this season.
For junior middle linebacker Justin Houlihan, tonight’s game is a chance to put other SFL teams on notice.
“Every team is going to down us and think were not going to be good, but I think we’re going to shock them,” he said. “If anyone lets up on us, they’re going to get upset.”
The Miners and Thunder are set to kickoff at 7:30 p.m., today at Hooper Stadium.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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.