It took 35 years for Bear River and Nevada Union to meet up on the gridiron in an official game. The long awaited contest did not disappoint.
The two Nevada County high schools, located a little more than 16 miles apart, battled it out Friday night with the Miners coming from behind in the fourth quarter to top the Bruins, 20-9, at J. David Ramsey Stadium.
“I think it was great for the community that (Bear River and Nevada Union) were one of the first official games since the pandemic,” said Bear River co-head coach Terry Logue. “It speaks for the whole of Nevada County. NU played a great game, and our kids sold out. Everybody was a winner tonight. That’s a cliché, but in this situation it just is. To be out here and experience what we experienced, what the kids experienced, you can’t put a price on it.”
It was a game a long time in the making, and it took place in a season that almost didn’t happen. That’s why it meant so much to all the players, said Nevada Union’s Gabe Baker.
“It’s everything,” he said after the game, “because nothing is guaranteed right now. Nothing is guaranteed ever, but more so right now. We knew this is the only thing that was guaranteed. … This was important.”
It was Baker who put NU ahead in the fourth quarter. With the Miners trailing 9-6, the 6-foot, 2-inch, 230-pound quarterback took the ball up the middle, busted through a handful of Bruins and bolted 63-yards for a touchdown.
“I’m gassed now, I was gassed then. But, I knew we needed something,” he said. “It was really the O-line opening up a hole and getting me to the second level.”
The Miners then added a two-point conversion to go up 14-9 early in the fourth quarter.
Baker finished with a team-high 112 rushing yards on 11 carries. He also had 57 passing yards, 52 of which came on the Miners’ next possession when he connected with Drake Schlachter on a wide-receiver screen. Schlachter got a good block downfield and the speedy receiver raced up the sideline, eventually taken down at the Bruins’ 10-yard line.
Three plays later it was Schlachter throwing to Aaron Schafer in the corner of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown to put NU up 11 with just under 8 minutes to play.
“We were pretty down in the dumps when one of our best lineman (Ezra Tout) went down,” said Nevada Union head coach Brad Sparks. “The kids were a bit demoralized and they were all focused on him. He’s a senior, a captain, a leader and a role model. As a staff we just told the kids to play for him and play for each other.”
Before NU’s two fourth quarter scores, it was the Bruins who were in control, using their power run game to set the tempo.
Bear River took its first lead of the game, 9-6, early in the fourth with a 34-yard field goal by Anders Torgerson. The kick capped an 18-play, 74-yard drive that gobbled up more than 9 minutes.
The Bruins’ lead didn’t last long though as Baker’s 63-yard jaunt came on the first play of NU’s ensuing possession.
Leading the Bear River ground game was junior fullback Ryder Kiggins, who bulldozed his way to a game-high 128 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. The Bruins also got solid games out of the backfield from Jacob Ayestaran and Torgerson
Making an impact out of the Miners’ backfield was junior Cameron Cormack who darted through the defense for 42 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown scamper in the first quarter.
Defensively, the Miners forced three turnovers. Linebacker Devin Sunde recovered a fumble in the first quarter. Schlachter intercepted a pass in the end zone to halt a deep Bear River drive late in the first half. And, safety J.T. Conway nabbed an interception in the final moments of the game.
The Bruins, who have a roster of 19, were staunch on defense for much of the game, forcing the Miners to turn the ball over on downs on three occasions.
“That was all heart in my opinion,” Bear River co-head coach Scott Savoie said of his team’s effort. “Year-in and year-out we have guys that do a lot of things. This year, this is the smallest crew we’ve ever had. We’re so proud of them. They are truly the survivors. There were a lot of kids that weren’t able to handle the ups and downs.”
Next up for the Bruins is an away game at Foresthill next Friday. The Miners are also on the road next week, facing the rival Hillmen at Placer High School.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, email email@example.com.