Under coach Mike Kuhnlenz, the East Union football team has shed its run-heavy reputation for a thrill-by-the-minute, fill-the-air-with-pigskins approach.
And it's working out quite wonderfully for the Lancers (2-1), who clinched a rare Sac-Joaquin Section postseason berth last fall with a freshman, Kirk Simoni, under center.
Today, East Union continues to take steps in the right direction. And that freshman, well, he's now among the most exciting quarterbacks in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
The Lancers face Enochs on Friday at Manteca High School. It's a battle of 2-1 teams with contrasting offensive schemes. On paper, East Union and Enochs are evenly matched, with both teams averaging 28.0 and 28.3 points per game, respectively. Enochs is a run-heavy team, averaging 244.3 rushing yards a game and just 70.3 passing yards per game.
East Union focuses on the pass with 302 yards per game through the air and just 76.3 yards on the ground.
Here are three things to look out for in this game:
East Union’s sophomore quarterback Kirk Simoni enters this game with 10 touchdown passes, as well as a Sac-Joaquin Section-best 906 passing yards, both of which are tops among Valley Oak League quarterbacks.
In 2022, Simoni excelled while playing at the freshman level. Through nine games as a freshman, Kirk threw for 2,190 yards with a completion percentage of 68.6 percent, 22 touchdowns against just one interception, and a near perfect 148.5 quarterback rating. Late into last season, Simoni was elevated to the Lancers’ varsity team. It was far from his freshman performance, completing just 47 percent of his passes with one touchdown and four interceptions in two games.
This season, Simoni has made substantial growth.
“It wasn’t very difficult at all,” Kuhnlenz said of trusting a freshman with his varsity offense, especially in the postseason. “He understands the offense, (he's) super smart (with a) high football IQ, sits in the pocket, which isn't typical for someone at the high school level, (and) finds the open guy.”
Kirk’s recent success is complimented well by explosive offensive weapons like Blake Mount, Jackson Fay, and JP Abrew. Mount, a junior wide receiver, leads all VOL players in receiving touchdowns with five, while ranking second in receiving yards with 311.
Fay is just one spot lower in receiving yards, with 259, while grabbing two touchdowns on the season. Abrew ranks fifth in receiving yards with 205, along with one touchdown.
Fay had a night to remember against Ripon, leading the team in receptions (12), yards (173), and being one of three players to catch a touchdown during a thrilling come-from-behind 28-21 win last week. Mount followed behind with 10 receptions, 127 yards, and a touchdown catch as well.
“He does a really good job of reading defenses and adjusting his routes,” Kuhnlenz said of Mount. “Those guys are super smart, and what’s fun about them is we’re able to move them around. We might have them in the slot one play, we might have them outside next play.”
The Eagles are coming off a 54-8 blowout win against Buhach Colony.
In this game, Enochs star senior running back Aiden Muhammad rushed for 197 yards on just 12 carries, a 16.4 yards per carry average, 33 receiving yards, and five total touchdowns. That was Muhammad’s second game with multiple touchdowns and second game with more than 150 rushing yards. Muhammad averages 156.7 yards per game and has punched the ball into the endzone seven times.
“Offensively, I mean that running back they have, he’s the real deal,” Kuhnlenz said. “So, we’re going to try as best we can to contain him, but he’s talented so he’s probably going to break free a couple times. ... They’re a really good team, they’re well coached, and there’s a reason why they’re 2-1, so we definitely have a challenge."
Gabriel Martinez is a student at Manteca High School, enrolled in James Burns' Sports Media class. Martinez contributes to FrontRowPreps.com as a member of its student internship program.