Fueled by a tremendous rushing performance by senior Sean Tow, the Union Mine Diamondbacks pushed through El Dorado 55-28 in the “Golden Nugget Game” Friday evening in Cougar country.
Tow’s 370-yard, four-touchdown performance was the cornerstone of a D’back offense that averaged two touchdowns per quarter in the Sierra Valley Conference rivalry matchup.
Union Mine led 25-14 at half, after trailing 7-6 nearing the end of the first quarter. El Dorado quarterback Nick Bonnikson kept the hosts within comeback distance through three-and-a-half quarters, but with no answer for Tow, the hosts could not keep momentum long enough for an upset.
Tow got started early, picking up a 20-yard touchdown run with 10:10 remaining in the first quarter. From the get go, the senior’s display of strength and skills ran the gamut — multiple broken tackles, creating lanes out of thin air – anything and everything a rusher could do in four quarters – Tow did it.
“Our game plan was to stop Sean Tow,” El Dorado head coach Joe Volek said. “We knew if we were going to win we were going to need to stop him, he’s been injured all year. He just a class act kid too — the way he plays, he looks you in the eye when he shakes your hand, just a class-act — everything you want a student-athlete to be. And we needed to stop him, but unfortunately for us he was healthy.”
“The thing with Sean, he’s almost like watching a video game. I mean, he’s just fun to watch out there,” Union Mine head coach Dave Johnson said
Bonniksen helped provide El Dorado with its only lead of the night near the end of the first quarter, connecting on a 24-yard aerial strike to Clayton Van Duyn for six with just over five minutes left in the quarter. Van Duyn’s performance Friday night — 79 yards receiving on 10 receptions and a touchdown — put him back atop the conference rankings as the number one receiver in the league.
“With that game,” Volek said. “That puts Clayton back up as the No. 1 in the league and I’m just proud as all heck-fire for him.”
Van Duyn picked up a rushing touchdown as well, a 3-yard blast with five minutes remaining in the game, capping off his 22-yards on three carries on the night. Chris Harris’ point-after attempt was good — giving El Dorado a one-point edge that brought the crowd into it until Tow broke two tackles and darted off for a 41-yard touchdown run with under two minutes left in the quarter.
From the second quarter on, Union Mine’s offense began firing on all cylinders. Scott McIntyre capped off a strong D’back drive with six minutes remaining in the first half, taking one in from the 1-yard line. McIntyre threw for 18 yards and a touchdown Friday night but the bulk of Union Mine’s point total was earned on the ground.
“I’ve gone back and watched that film over again,” Volek said. “And 370 yards for a running back is just unreal. We played well, but Sean Tow played better.”
Despite a rough go of it stopping the run, El Dorado’s passing game was consistently present — a positive sign for the future as Bonniksen, a sophomore, lifted a beautiful delivery to Riley Beckett, who fully extended above his head as he leapt backwards for a touchdown with three minutes to go in the second quarter. Beckett, a senior, couldn’t have picked a better night for a highlight catch.
“What a great catch by a senior on senior night,” Volek said. “That’s just a testament to him, he’s worked so hard and to get that catch was a great thing.”
Bonniksen had his most efficient night of the year passing, with a completion percentage of just over 60-percent. With a number of sophomores on the starting roster and a group of kids intent on listening to — and buying into — the system, there’s progress at El Dorado that neighboring programs have been able to see this season.
“(Joe)’s trying to get it going over there at El Dorado,” Union Mine head coach Dave Johnson said. “They’re starting four or five sophomores which is a good thing going forward — a good thing to build on.”
The score brought El Dorado to within one touchdown of the lead — some momentum the Cougars could have taken with them into halftime had it not been for McIntyre’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Parker with only seconds remaining in the half.
El Dorado kicked to the Diamondbacks after halftime and Tow wasted no time leading a drive downfield, finishing with a 12-yard touchdown run to take the score up to 31 for the visitors. Later in the third, Tow blasted through the line and picked up speed in through the secondary en route to a big 50-yard touchdown run. The senior also shares duties at kicker, and made one of his five extra points following the score, a touchdown that put Union Mine up 39-14 late in the third.
As has been the theme this year for El Dorado, the Cougars never backed down. Putting together a solid drive as the third was drawing to a close, Bonniksen found a way to score on a 3-yard rush and the hosts headed into the fourth down 39-20.
As Tow carried Union Mine through the first three quarters, the remaining members of the rushing crew had accentuated his performance with some complementary rushes of 5-15 yards each. The fourth quarter belonged to Jake Horn, who picked up two touchdowns — the first a 3-yard strike early in the quarter and the latter a 13-yard sprint barely 90-seconds later.
Union Mine’s highlights were not all situated around Tow though the senior certainly earned more than his keep on the evening. Sam Armanino hustled on both sides of the ball, marking up well on defense and delivering some killer offensive blocks while picking up big gains for 62 yards on three carries. Augie Ahuna was an animal on defense, tallying eight tackles and a dozen assists on the night.
“Sam has just been a guy, he doesn’t get a lot of touches but we got him a couple of carries to try and take some of the heat off of Sean (Tow) and he just did a great job,” Johnson said.
Van Duyn and El Dorado would not allow the visitors to get the last word, and scored on a 3-yard rush with five minutes to go but Tow and the D’backs were too far ahead to pull back down, and Union Mine walked away with the Nugget win.