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East Nicolaus hosts Durham in battle of unbeaten teams

November 3, 2017 GMT

Even before the season kicked off, East Nicolaus and Durham High’s football teams have been counting down the days leading to tonight.

The nine games up to this point of the season have proved to be nothing more than a formality, and now, the only two unbeaten teams remaining in the Northern Section will meet at Wahl Field in Trowbridge with the Mid-Valley League title and the top seed in the playoffs at stake.

The fact that it’s a rematch of last year’s Division IV championship game only adds more spice to an intriguing matchup between two high-scoring teams that have been ranked at the top of the division since the season began.

“The way the section is lining up, there is a good possibility that we are going to see Durham again,” said East Nicolaus coach Travis Barker. “This game will not only decide league, but determine whether we hit the road or not. I would rather have that matchup be in our home, rather than us having to travel to Durham.”

Winners of two straight section titles and a CIF state championship in 2015, the Spartans are sitting at a perfect 9-0 and have crushed their four MVL foes by a combined score of 186-28. East Nicolaus has now won 33 of its last 34 games, with the only blemish over that stretch coming in a 45-26 loss to eventual state champion McClymonds High of Oakland in last year’s Northern California Regional Bowl Game.

The Spartans have also won 28 consecutive games against Northern Section competition. Their last loss? A 23-16 nonleague setback at Durham on Sept. 18, 2015.

East Nicolaus avenged that loss with a 38-20 win later that season in the playoffs, and beat the Trojans twice more last year, the final one coming in a 34-6 victory in the section title game.

“You can call it a rivalry. They are definitely one of the toughest opponents we have faced over the last few seasons,” Barker said. “I’m thinking this will be a closer game than the one we played in the playoffs last year. We are definitely taking it more serious.”

After playing a tough nonleague schedule and squeaking out a pair hard-fought wins out of the section to open the season, the Spartans have found their groove and are averaging nearly 39 points per game while posting a string of blowouts.

Senior Corey Taylor leads a strong East Nicolaus ground game with a team-high 800 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 10 yards per carry, and senior fullback Mauricio Bautista has added 535 yards and a team-best 12 TDs.

East Nic has also received a big boost from sophomore quarterback Gavin McAuliff, who took over for two-year starter S.J. Brown and has the Spartans not skipping a beat. McAuliff is third on the team in rushing with 515 yards and eight touchdowns, and has given the offense some balance by passing for 1,050 yards and nine additional scores.

“We were wondering who was going to take over that role, but he’s stepped up and been fantastic,” Barker said. “All offseason we had him with the JV’s, and then we went to a 7-on-7 practice and he came out and really showed us a lot of things. The first game he played he was great, and we just decided to go with it.”

The Spartans’ perfect start has also been aided by a strong defense spearheaded by linebacker Dyllan Hyde, who tops the squad with 117 tackles. Adin Starr is second with 87 tackles, and big defensive lineman Christian Hovey has been tough against the run while also recording 4 1/2 sacks and returning fumbles for touchdowns in each of the last two games.

That defensive unit will have to be up to the task tonight against a potent Trojan offense that is putting up 44 points per game and has outscored its four MVL opponents by a combined score of 168-21.

Three-year varsity starter Manny Tovalin is Durham’s top playmaker with 1,131 rushing yards to go with 15 total touchdowns, while junior quarterback Adin Dubose has passed for 1,118 yards and 16 TDs.

“Durham is going to be a tough team to beat. We haven’t had a matchup like this since the first couple of games this season,” Barker said. “They’ve got big playmakers, and a few trick plays under their sleeves. They throw the ball well, have an excellent running back, so we must be prepared for all of it.

“They got a lot of athletes that can make the big play at anytime. Our guys need to be prepared mentally just in case they take a lead early, we have to bounce back.”

With rain in the forecast, Barker said the game will be won in the trenches and is looking for his offensive and defensive lines to control things at the line of scrimmage. Both teams have been practicing with a wet football all week to prepare for the muddy conditions, and Barker said it will have an impact on the game – he’s just hoping his team can rise above it.

“I think that both teams will be affected,” he added. “They throw the ball and we throw the ball, so it’s going to be a battle and come down to who digs the deepest and who makes the least amount of mistakes.”