Nevada Union had its football season come to a close Friday night in Vacaville.
Playing nearly 100 miles from home, the No. 9 seeded Miners couldn’t keep pace with the No. 8 seed Will C. Wood Wildcats, falling 39-27 in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs.
“I’m proud of our seniors, I’m proud of the legacy they have left,” NU head coach Brad Sparks said. “We sure would’ve liked to get the win, but I’m proud of our effort and how we got here.”
The loss for the Miners concludes a 2021 campaign in which they went 6-5 overall, 3-2 in league play, and made the playoffs for a second straight season. The last time NU had at least six wins overall and three in league play was 2011.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done and how far we’ve come,” said Sparks. “I think our last playoff game wasn’t even a showing (NU lost 56-14 to Vanden) and tonight we kept it competitive. And, in my eyes, that’s a game we should win. We made some very bad mistakes tonight.”
Mistakes and missed opportunities plagued the Miners all night as they committed 12 penalties, turned the ball over three times, dropped seven passes and had two fruitless trips to the red zone.
NU also started the game a bit sluggish, and was staring at a 14-point deficit in the first quarter before battling back. The Miners first got on the board when sophomore quarterback Dustin Philpott connected with senior receiver Brenner Krogh for a 3-yard score late in the first quarter.
The Miners tied the game in the second quarter when senior quarterback Gabe Baker found junior receiver Drew Menet in the corner of the end zone from 6 yards out. Menet led all NU pass catchers with eight grabs for 76 yards and the score.
Nevada Union grabbed its first lead of the game in the third quarter when Baker hit Bodey Eelkema for a 41-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-6.
Baker finished the game 26-for-46 with 252 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for a team-high 78 yards in the game. For the season, Baker finishes with 1,938 yards passing, 903 rush yards and 31 total touchdowns (23 passing, 8 rushing).
Trailing 21-14, the Wildcats (8-3) responded with vigor, getting a 1-yard touchdown run from quarterback Ken Tilford, and two long touchdown runs from running back Jayjay Olaes to go back in front, 32-21.
The Miners responded early in the fourth quarter with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Baker to senior running back Cameron Cormack, who hauled the ball in, made a defender miss and barreled into the end zone. Cormack finished the night with 45 receiving yards and 51 rushing yards to go with his touchdown. For the season, Cormack closes with 968 rushing yards, 351 receiving yards and 16 total touchdowns (8 rushing, 8 receiving).
NU’s momentum didn’t last long. On the Wildcats’ ensuing drive, Tilford kept the ball and weaved through the Miners’ defense for a 65-yard touchdown run and a two-score lead. Tilford finished the night with 165 passing yards, 192 rushing yards and three touchdowns (2 rushing, 1 passing). Olaes wrapped the contest with 193 rushing yards and three touchdowns (14-yards, 87, 59).
The Miners had a couple of opportunities to cut into the lead late in the game, but came up short each time.
Defensively the Miners were led by senior middle linebacker Jedi Vculek, who wrapped 12 tackles, forced a fumble and tallied a sack. Clay Renner followed with nine tackles, including one for a loss. Julian Spackman tallied eight tackles. James Kinney notched seven tackles and had a fumble recovery. And, Traytron Santos accounted for five tackles and nabbed an interception.
“People ask me all the time, ‘How’s your football team going to be?’” said Sparks. “And, I always say, ‘I’ll let you know in 10 years, when I see them and they are husbands and dads and they are contributing to our community. These are the kind of guys that will be in our community and will make our community stronger.”
This season marked the 27th in which the Miners reached the postseason. The program is 37-23 overall with four Sac-Joaquin Section titles across those 27 appearances, but hasn’t won a playoff game since 2009. NU is 0-4 in its last four appearances, three of which have been played on the road.
For Will C. Wood, the win is their first in the postseason since 2015. The Wildcats will now travel to Tracy next Friday to face No. 1 seed Kimball.
NOTABLE FIRST ROUND BOUTS
The No. 6 Placer Hillmen (5-5) shook off a slow start and powered past No. 12 West Park, 63-28, in the D-IV bracket, and will now face No. 3 Vista del Lago in the second round. Fellow Foothill Valley League team Ponderosa, the No. 10 seed in D-IV, came up short against No. 7 Dixon, 29-20. FVL champ Lincoln is the No. 2 seed in D-III and had a bye through the first round.
Colfax, the No. 9 seed in D-V, had their season come to a close after falling to No. 8 Woodland, 22-19.
Walter Ford is the sports editor of The Union. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
WILDCATS 39, MINERS 27
SCORE BY QUARTER
WCW: Camren Intermesoli 39-yard pass from Ken Tilford. Anthony Ortiz kick. (9:32)
WCW: Jayjay Olaes 14-yard run. Ortiz kick. (3:39)
NU: Brenner Krogh 3-yard pass from Dustin Philpott. Justin Lopez kick. (:46)
NU: Drew Menet 6-yard pass from Gabe Baker. Lopez kick. (9:53)
NU: Bodey Eelkema 41-yard pass from Baker. Lopez kick. (10:05)
WCW: Tilford 1-yard run. Extra point failed. (6:25)
WCW: Olaes 87-yard run. Two-point try failed. (4:09)
WCW: Olaes 59-yard run. Extra point failed. (2:37)
NU: Cameron Cormack 9-yard pass from Baker. Two-point try failed. (11:49)
WCW: Tilford 65-yard run. Ortiz kick. (11:37)
NU: Gabe Baker – 26-for-46, 252 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs
WCW: Ken Tilford – 12-for-18, 165 yards, TD, INT
WCW: Jayjay Olaes – 19 carries, 193 yards, 3 TDs
WCW: Ken Tilford – 17 carries, 192 yards, 2 TDs
NU: Gabe Baker – 12 carries, 78 yards
NU: Cameron Cormack – 15 carries, 51 yards
NU: Drew Menet – 8 catches, 76 yards, TD
NU: Clay Renner – 7 catches, 58 yards
NU: Cameron Cormack – 6 catches, 45 yards, TD
NU: Bodey Eelkema – 1 catch, 41 yards, TD
NU: Brenner Krogh – 2 catches, 8 yards, TD