PREP ROUNDUP: Nevada Union hits the road to face Lincoln
Know & Go
What: Nevada Union (1-1) at Lincoln (0-2)
When: 7:15 p.m., Friday
Where: Lincoln High School, Lincoln, CA
Follow along: on Twitter at @WalterLFordIII and online at TheUnion.com
After taking down the defending Pioneer Valley League champion Placer Hillmen a week ago, the Miners now have their sights set on another PVL team — the Lincoln Fighting Zebras.
Lincoln (0-2), which took second in the PVL in 2015, is off to a rough start to the season after losses to Ponderosa and Antelope. But, Nevada Union head coach Dennis Houlihan isn’t looking past the Zebras.
“Lincoln is good at the passing attack,” Houlihan said. “(We) need to defend the pass and control the run.”
Tonight’s game will mark the third time in three years the Miners and Fighting Zebras have clashed on the gridiron with the previous two coming down to the final minutes. In 2014, Nevada Union went to Lincoln and beat the Fighting Zebras, 26-20. In 2015, Lincoln came into Hooper Stadium and knocked off the Miners, 42-35, after two unanswered fourth quarter touchdowns.
For this year’s matchup, Houlihan said he is going to stick with what has worked.
“Offensively, we have been able to run against them the last (two) years,” he said. “We hope to establish our run game and pass to keep drives alive.”
The Miners have found great success on the ground against Lincoln. Last year, the team amassed 322 rush yards, including 139 yards and three touchdowns by, then sophomore, running back Tyler Nielson. In 2014, the Miners gouged the Fighting Zebras for 343 yards on the ground.
The Miners ground attack this season has been a steady helping of Nielson, now a junior, and sophomore Dawson Fay. Nielson leads the Miners on the ground this season with 155 yards through two games. He also has four catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. Fay has 126 yards and two rushing touchdowns so far.
The Brothers Fay
While Dawson Fay has been impressive out of the Miners’ backfield, his older brother Hayden Fay, a junior, had a breakout game against Placer. Hayden Fay had just three catches but two were for touchdowns (75, 50) and the other went for 22 yards and a first down. The 6-foot, 2-inch 170-pound, Hayden Fay runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds and offers NU big play potential at the receiver position.
“We have to find ways to get Hayden the ball,” said Houlihan after the win over Placer.
Digging in defensively
Nevada Union’s defense has been tough to predict this season. In week one of the season, NU allowed 21 first half points to Antelope and it looked like the Titans senior running back Isaiah Dotson was going to have a career day. But, after halftime the Miners shut him down and held the Antelope offense to just seven points. In week two against Placer, NU again struggled to slow their opponents run game as Placer bullied their way up and down the field on mostly runs up the middle to take a 12-0 halftime lead. But, again the Miners tightened up in the second half, and completely shutdown and shut out the Placer offense. Through the first two weeks, NU’s defense has allowed 33 first half points and only seven second half points.
Leading NU’s defense through two weeks has been junior linebacker Justin Houlihan, who has a team high 29 tackles to go with three tackles for a loss and an interception. Jonathan Weaver (19 tackles), Tallon Joyce (15 tackles), Grady McCuen (12 tackles, four tackles for a loss), and Owen Day (Seven tackles, two sacks) have also been big contributors for the Miners defense.
For Nevada Union, who has struggled against the pass in recent seasons, the game against Lincoln will be their first look at a pass first team.
Zebra’s on the attack
A season ago Lincoln’s Elijah Garcia threw for 237 yards and two touchdowns against the Miners. Lincoln’s Caleb Kettlehut caught both the touchdowns on his way to 147 receiving yards. But, Garcia and Kettlehut, who were both All-PVL selections, have since graduated, and Lincoln hasn’t been able to recreate the same level of passing attack so far this season. The Zebras do have a solid running option in senior Ryan Graham, who rushed for 1,093 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2015, and topped 200 yards in Lincoln’s game against Ponderosa.
Miners find balance
Nevada Union has done a good job of finding offensive balance this season. While NU runs the ball more than it passes it, NU has a total of 334 rush yards to go with 298 pass yards. Of the Miners’ five offensive touchdowns three have been through the air and two have come on the ground.
NU’s junior quarterback Owen Dal Bon has done a nice job during his first year as the full time starter, going 15-for-29 for 298 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Limiting the mistakes
For the Miners, the first half of games this season have been filled with flags, turnovers and missed opportunities. Something they seem to have been able to clean up when they make halftime adjustments. Houlihan said cleaning up those early mistakes will be a major focus for the Miners.
“This week comes down to limiting our errors and turnovers, and completing drives,” he said.
The Miners and Fighting Zebras kickoff at 7:15 p.m. today at Lincoln High School.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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