‘The time is now’ for Miners (VIDEO)
Know & go
What: Nevada Union (0-3) at Chico (0-2)
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Pleasant Valley High School, 1475 East Ave., Chico 95926
Follow along: Sports editor Walter Ford will be live tweeting the game @TheUnionSports twitter handle.
At Thursday’s practice, Nevada Union football head coach Dennis Houlihan spoke to his team about experiencing the other side.
The coach was alluding to the emotion that follows a victory at the varsity level, a feeling that has escaped the 2013 Miners. But after three home losses to start the season, the time is now for the Miners, said Houlihan.
“It’s crucial right now,” Houlihan said of getting the team’s first win under its belt. “We’ve really focused in on what our problems are right now and getting rid of the things that they are afraid of that are holding them back. And this is a game we’re going into where (Chico) is struggling on their own, and we should be able to push them around a bit, and the time is now.”
The Miners enter week four of the prep season without out a win but face a Chico Panthers team that is dealing with its fair share of problems after starting 0-2 with losses to Division IV Center and Division II Lassen.
The Panthers run a pass-heavy offense that exposed Nevada Union last season, but Houlihan has confidence that his secondary will hold Chico in check and that his pass rush will put some pressure on the quarterback.
“They’re going to spread us out and throw,” Houlihan said. “They’re going to throw 80 percent of the time, they got a good junior quarterback, tall, has a good arm, and their wide receivers are always talented.
“That will hurt us if we don’t put some pressure on him. Our schemes are going to be using some of our quicker guys. We don’t have bigger guys, but we have quick guys, so hopefully we can disguise our blitzes a little bit and get into his face a little bit.”
Nevada Union’s defensive backs have shown at times they can hang with top-tier talent, but other times, they have also been beaten deep.
For NU, defensive backs, Jake Berger, Gareth Noxon and Chase Loper have all grabbed interceptions this season, but the defensive line has only tallied three sacks through three games.
On the offensive end, the Miners have stopped the quarterback carousel and will be starting sophomore signal-caller Justus Spillner for the remainder of the season.
“We’re going with Spillner the rest of the way,” Houlihan said. “He’s the guy. He’s got a good arm, he’s a sophomore obviously, his faking is getting better, he is coachable and did the things that were asked of him for the week. We are looking to get him as many reps as we can for years to come. He’s going to take us wherever we go.”
So far this season Spillner is 8-of-21 for 105 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions while splitting time with Michael Tapia and Loper. Spillner is the only NU quarterback to throw a touchdown this season.
Busting onto the scene for the Miners last week was sophomore Drew Daniels, catching four passes for 43 yards. In one game, the junior varsity call up now leads NU in both receptions and receiving yards.
“It’s only week two for him, but the kid works hard,” Houlihan said of Daniels. “I know he’s listening, I know he’s adjusting, he’ll make his mistakes, but he’s getting better. He made a great catch last week, he ran good routes, he has to get the hang of the blocking thing, but he’s getting there.”
While the pass game looks to be falling into place, so does the running game. Noxon broke the 100-yard mark last week, and Travis Owens looked good in practice. Houlihan hopes that this Saturday will be the day NU finally gets its offense rolling.
“I sure hope so,” Houlihan said when asked if his offense will be effective Saturday. “We worked all week on it. Not a lot of depth, but our kids are working their tails off, and that’s all I can ask of them.”
The Miners have topped 200 yards rushing as a team in two of their three games, but much of that has come in the fourth quarter when the game has already been decided. Berger (31 carries, 150 yards), Owens (30 carries, 125 yards) and Noxon (14 carries, 131 yards, touchdown) will head up the Miners run game against Chico.
The game will be played at 7 p.m. at Pleasant Valley High School in Chico.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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