Team: Union Mine
League: Sierra Valley Conference
2011 record: 5-4, third place
Head Coach: Dave Johnson
Assistant coaches: Shane Saba (Defensive Coordinator), Ben Moran (Special Teams, receivers, defensive backs), Kelly Truax (running backs, Special Teams), Kevin Hart (offensive line), Bryan Middleton (receivers, defensive backs), Paxton Fitzpatrick (defensive line).
Key dates: Aug. 24 season/home opener vs El Camino; Sept 7 hosting Colfax; Sept 14 at Ponderosa; Sept 21 hosting River City for Sierra Valley Conference opener; Nov. 2 Homecoming against Vista del Lago.
EL DORADO — Though the D’backs stand at 0-3 after their first three games, the excitement coming into the 2012 season was the team’s improved overall balance from a year ago.
“We’ll be young but we have more skilled players,” Johnson said before the season. “We just lack varsity experience.”
The 0-3 record is best explained by four words: ‘Did Sean Tow play?’ Tow, one of the region’s premier running backs, has two, 2,000 yard rushing seasons to his credit and stands a chance to break the section mark held by Grant’s Onterio Smith (1995-98). Tow missed the first two games due to injury and saw limited duty last Friday in his first game back, gaining 47 yards on 10 carries.
Union Mine went 4-2 in the Sierra Valley Conference last season but did not make the playoffs. The year before, the D’backs reached the section semifinals before falling at Calaveras.
Offense: Tow is the centerpiece and a real threat to score from anywhere on the field but Johnson likes the fact there are players to compliment that. Jake Horn ran for 128 yards against Bear River and Johnson can also call on Jasper Spence, Hunter Henderson, Matt Cathey, Anthony Beck and Tyler Parker.
“We see what we have every year, modify and go from there.” Johnson said. “The change in our offense is that we have a lot of running back/receiver-type guys other teams will have to respect so it won’t just be Sean (Tow) with 40 carries a game.”
Senior Scott McIntyre will quarterback and is suited for play action, short routes and underneath screens.
The offensive line won’t have a lot of depth so the key will be to stay healthy. Key players will be Jesse Morgan, Hogan Fitzpatrick and Augie Ahuna.
At wide receiver, McIntyre’s targets will be Parker, Sam Armanino and Derek Stirling.
Defense: Johnson expects the unit won’t be very big but it’ll be quick.
“We’re movement-oriented and stunt every play,” Johnson said. “Everyone is bigger so we’ll have to move and attack and bring guys from all different places in a big risk-high reward scenario.”
Morgan, Spence, Ahuna, Austin Cross, Smith Purdum, Scott Cowan and Hunter Canon share time on the defensive line. Behind them at linebacker are Horn, Beck, Parker and Tyler Scott.
Tow will bounce around between free safety, cornerback and outside linebacker. Armanino, Paris Tatiague, Zac Kraus and Stirling are the defensive backs.
Special teams: Tow will again handle the point after tries and field goal attempts. The D’backs do not assign a punter, preferring to quick kick when the need arises. Horn, Tow, Armanino and Parker will handle the kickoff and punt returns.
Outlook: The D’backs have struggled thus far scoring and stopping people. Unless the team addresses its weaknesses — quickly — this could be a long season even with a healthy Tow.
It won’t get easier once league starts. Johnson feels Cosumness Oaks will be loaded and Vista del Lago and River City should both be good as the top-tier teams.
One blow Union Mine has to absorb is the fact its projected offensive line (left side including tight end) never materialized — not the kind of situation Johnson or Tow needed to see.
It Tow can regain his form and keep the opposition honest, things will improve in D’back country.