Road not easy as NU faces Laguna Creek
Standing at 0-1 in the Delta Valley Conference, Nevada Union returned to practice this week in a rare position, looking up at the rest of the teams in its league.
Not since 1995, when the Miners fell 27-21 to Capital Athletic League foe Roseville, had Nevada Union lost a league-opener.
But after falling to Franklin (Elk Grove) 48-30 on their home turf last Friday, the Miners (4-2 overall) are now focused on making sure they don’t fall to 0-2 in league play, which also hasn’t happened since the ’95 season.
However, their coach says that won’t be an easy task when NU takes the field against Laguna Creek (5-1) at Elk Grove High School.
“I think once the game starts Friday, it will allow us to put last Friday behind us,” said NU head coach Dave Humphers. “You know, the last eight years or so, there have been some soft opponents on our schedule.
“Now, not only are we preparing our team to get better and improve every week, but we’re also preparing for a very good team every single week.”
Welcome to the DVC.
The conference, which was established in the Sac-Joaquin Section’s league realignment, is starting to look substantially better – from top to bottom – than the Metro Conference in which the Miners competed from 2002-2005.
In the pre-league portion of the current campaign, DVC teams combined for a 23-6 record. A year ago, Metro teams posted a 9-13 mark prior to league play.
Perhaps more telling than those records, however, was the outcome of last Friday’s DVC contests.
With five section championships cluttering its trophy case, Elk Grove (5-1) was considered by many to be one of the favorites to contend for the inaugural DVC crown. But the perennial prep powerhouse also lost its league opener, 20-10 to Laguna Creek.
“They have several key guys back and they defended us real well last year (in 10-0 season-opening win for the Miners),” said Humphers. “That was our lowest-scoring game by our offense all year.
“So they have to feel good about themselves.”
The Cardinals are led offensively by running back Bryan Hilliard, who has gained 801 yards and ranks second in the DVC in rushing even though he didn’t play in Laguna Creek’s 35-14 win over Monterey Trail.
Hilliard, a 5-foot, 11-inch, 200-pound senior, has scored five touchdowns on the year and is averaging 160 yards per game on the ground.
Laguna Creek quarterback Brandon Summers, a 6-foot, 175-pound senior, offers the Cardinals some balance with 851 yards on 66-of-108 passing with eight touchdowns against three interceptions.
The Cardinals come at teams from the I-formation, which Humphers said is drastically different than the Utah shotgun formation the Miners saw from Franklin last Friday.
“Their offensive style is a lot different,” he said. “They’re more of an I-blast or I-toss formation. They’re a smash-mouth kind of team. But they throw the ball well, too.”
Facing a wider variety of offensive sets than high school teams have traditionally played, Humphers said preparing a defense for Friday nights becomes more difficult as prep programs push the envelope with more sophisticated schemes.
“For so many years, it seemed like every team we played ran a West Coast, one-back spread,” said Humphers, whose Miners have stuck with the same base Wing-T formation since he was an assistant to Randy Blankenship in the ’80s. “I think that it is more difficult with so many offenses, but I also think that it’s a lot more difficult this year because we’re playing so many teams for the first time.
“And it’s also challenging that the teams we face are all very good.”
Humphers said last week’s loss, which saw NU allow the most points scored against the Miners since the 50-45 loss to St. Mary’s in the 2004 section championship game, made one thing very clear: the Miners must improve their tackling.
“There are no excuses on our part,” he said. “Tackling is a skill that is part technique and part desire.”
Laguna Creek’s lone loss came in week two, in a 21-20 defeat at Vacaville, a team that has also posted a 5-1 record.
The 21 points the Cardinals allowed in that loss was the largest total Laguna Creek has surrendered this season. Opponents have averaged 15.5 points per game against the Cardinals.
If the Miners are to avoid falling to 0-2 in league play for the first time since ’95, when NU followed the loss to Roseville with a 38-32 loss to rival Grant, Humphers said the Miners must make plays when given the opportunity.
And considering that Elk Grove’s Thundering Herd comes to Hooper Stadium next Friday, there’s not much margin for error when it comes to deciding which three teams will emerge from the DVC with a postseason berth.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” he said. “There are no excuses on our part. We need to be more consistent.
“This is a critical game for us, as far as the league championship and the playoffs are concerned. This is a big, big game for us.”
To contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4240.
Nevada Union (4-2) vs. Laguna Creek (5-1) at Elk Grove High School
Rushing – Nevada Union, Dave Zealear 72-458 and 7 TDs, Jesse Ettlin 61-453 and 4 TDs, Corey Browning 65-442 and 4 TDs, Andrew Metroka 34-124 and 3 TDs. Laguna Creek, Bryan Hilliard 132-801 and 5 TDs, Justin Swanigan 41-208 and 3 TDs, Bryson Littlejohn 33-144 and 1 TD.
Passing – Nevada Union, Chad Mason 49-81-1 for 726 yards and 5 TDs. Laguna Creek, Brandon Summers 66-108-3 for 851 yards and 8 TDs.
Receiving – Nevada Union, Doug Dolan 10-212 and 1 TD, Zealear 10-136 and 1 TD, Colin Casey 11-122 and 1 TD. Laguna Creek, L.T. Thomas 15-310 and 3 TDs, Christian Edwards 21-235 and 1 TD, Michael Grant 16-211.
Defense – Nevada Union, Brian Milhous 48 tackles, 1 INT; Tucker Colomb 37 tackles; Zach Masch 28 tackles, 3 sacks; Steele Jantz 27 tackles; Matt Anderson 22 tackles, 3 INT; Brian Stockton 17 tackles, 12 sacks. Laguna Creek, Littlejohn 87 tackles, 1 sack; Perry Jackson, 67 tackles, 5 sacks; Kamal Mack 56 tackles, 3 INT; Aaron Hanna 29 tackles, 3 INT.
Directions – Take I-80 west to Highway 99 south. Take the Elk Grove Boulevard exit. Turn left at the light and go back over the highway. Turn right on Elk Grove-Florin Road. The school will be on your right (west) side a few blocks south of Elk Grove Boulevard.
– The Union staff
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