PREP FOOTBALL: Nevada Union set to face Napa in final non-league matchup of season
Know & Go
What: Nevada Union (2-1) vs. Napa (1-2)
When: 7:15 p.m., Friday
Where: Hooper Stadium, Nevada Union High School
Follow along: On Twitter @WalterLFordIII or online at http://www.TheUnion.com
Three games into the 2016 schedule and the Nevada Union football team already has more wins than it did all of last season.
After a 1-9 run in 2015, the Miners have won two of their first three games this season with their defense playing a major role in their early success.
“We’ve come up with big plays when we needed them and we’re tackling better,” said head coach Dennis Houlihan.
Nevada Union’s defense is allowing 18 points per game, and seems to get better as the game goes on, having allowed just two second half touchdowns all season.
After two stellar defensive showings on the road, the Miners return to Hooper Stadium tonight where they will face off with the Napa Indians, who has an impressive defense of their own.
Despite being 1-2 this season, Napa has allowed just 35 points total in their three games, an average of 11.7 points per game. The Indians are allowing just 91 pass yards a game and 93.6 rush yards per game this season.
Napa’s defense is strong, but Houlihan said his team has multiple players on offense that can put points on the board.
“We have a lot of playmakers and I think we’ve done a good job of spreading the ball around to them,” he said. “I think we are one or two blocks away from having a field day.”
Nevada Union’s offense has been very balanced this season, gaining 424 yards through the air and 427 yards on the ground. Of NU’s eight offensive touchdowns, three have come via the pass, and five have been by way of the run.
“We want to get our offense to the point where it is a well-oiled machine,” said Houlihan.
Junior running back Tyler Nielson (35 carries, 218 rush yards, one touchdown) and sophomore Dawson Fay (30 carries, 145 yards, four touchdowns) have been NU’s workhorses out of the backfield.
Through the air, junior quarterback Owen Dal Bon is hitting on 48 percent of his passes for 424 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Dal Bon’s favorite target, and NU’s top deep threat, has been junior Hayden Fay (10 receptions, 254 yards, two touchdowns), who is averaging 25.4 yards per catch.
The offense has done just enough to get NU off to a 2-1 start, but is only averaging 19.3 points per game, which is tied for worst among Sierra Foothill League teams.
Napa’s defense is led by 6-foot, 4-inch, 200-pound Jake Van Zandt, who leads the team with four sacks. The Indians top tackler is junior Dawson Trent with 17 tackles.
As for Napa’s offense, the Indians are also averaging 19.3 points per game this season, but have scored just 22 total points in their last two games, a 28-16 loss to Rocklin (2-1) and a 7-6 loss to Pitman (3-0).
Napa, which won the Monticello Empire League a season ago, leans on the run game, averaging 168 yards per game.
“They run the option very well,” said Houlihan. “They also run some misdirection. They have a pound it right at you style. They’re physical.”
Leading the Indians’ offense is 5-foot, 8-inch, 148-pound senior running back Hunter Larue, who leads the team with 186 rush yards and five touchdowns.
Napa also has a versatile quarterback in senior Austin Spinelli who has 371 pass yards and 98 rush yards and two rushing touchdowns.
Looking to contain the Napa attack will be NU’s playmakers on defense and there are plenty. Junior linebacker Justin Houlihan (45 tackles, 29 solo, interception, sack) leads the Miners’ talented defense, but they also have playmakers in defensive end Owen Day (11 tackles, three sacks), defensive back Jonathan Weaver (27 tackles), linebacker Tallon Joyce (20 tackles), linebacker Nick Whittlesey (11 tackles), linebacker Jared Finau (10 tackles), defensive back Andrew Link (six tackles, interception, blocked field goal), defensive back Will Smith (12 tackles) and Luke Cornish (eight tackles).
This is Nevada Union’s final tune up before it begins Sierra Foothill League play Sept. 23 against Rocklin.
With just one game left before league play, Houlihan said there are still things the Miners need to work on.
“I still want to clean up the penalties,” said Dennis Houlihan, “They have hurt us in every game, they are drive killers.”
The last time Napa and Nevada Union met up on the gridiron was 2009 when the Miners beat the Indians, 62-12. In that game, NU’s Broughan Jantz threw for three touchdowns and ran for another as the Miners racked up 504 yards of total offense.
The 2016 Miners take on Napa at 7:15 p.m. tonight at Hooper Stadium.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email email@example.com.
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