It had been nearly two decades since East Union High football coach Mike Kuhnlenz last stood on the home sidelines of Guss Schmiedt Field, home crowd roaring at his back and victory within reach.
With his stadium under renovation, the former Manteca High standout and innovative offensive coach returned to his alma mater for a rare home game on Friday evening. East Union dressed the stadium in red and blue and then rode its defense to a 30-7 victory over Enochs, extending its winning streak to three games.
Unlike other nights when East Union attacked with heavy doses of quarterback Kirk Simoni and the pass, the run game and ball-hawking defense played big roles in Friday’s non-league victory.
Led by captain Carson Sanders, East Union’s defense forced five fumbles, including three inside the red zone, while allowing a season-low seven points.
“Our defense is doing a great job right now flying around” Kuhnlenz said. “They have a good running back and I thought our guys did a really good job.”
Enochs’ only points came late in the second half on a 70-yard catch-and-run by junior Kaedon Kopp, his first receiving score of the season.
Otherwise, the Lancers were staunch and stifling, gathering at the ball with multiple tacklers.
Enochs running back Aiden Muhammed entered the game averaging 156.7 yards with seven touchdowns. On Friday, East Union limited the Eagles’ offensive star to 94 yards on 19 carries and held him out of the end zone.
Sebastian Arrizano, Julian Perez and Carson Sanders each recovered fumbles, taking turns wearing the team’s turnover chain and posing for pictures on the sideline. During one 13-second span in the second quarter, the teams traded fumbles on three consecutive plays. The Enochs started the odd chain of turnovers with a fumble deep in East Union territory, spoiling a 6-minute drive, easily its best of the first half.
Despite strong performances by East Union wide receivers Blake Mount (eight receptions, two touchdowns) and JP Abrew (team-high 10 receptions), junior running back Cesar Salinas sealed the victory.
With blistered speed and tenacity in between the tackles, Salinas rushed for 105 yards on 12 carries (8.75 yards per carry), two touchdowns, and three two-point conversions. One touchdown was from 4 yards out in the first quarter, while the other touchdown was a 60-yard sprint within the final minutes of the game to give East Union a commanding 30-7 lead.
Salinas has rushed for more than 100 yards in consecutive games. He rushed the ball 17 times for 120 yards with a rushing touchdown in a come-from-behind victory over the Ripon Indians last week.
“This a very unselfish offense,” Salinas said. “Everyone is going to be able to touch the ball. It’s just when the time comes, you have to be able to capitalize on it.”
Flags, turnovers, and other miscues made by Enochs gave East Union more opportunities to score with much better field position.
On the first offensive drive for Enochs, a seemingly routine punt turned into a turnover on downs after a bad snap on the punt forced junior kicker/punter Ansel Mello to attempt to scramble.
On East Union’s second offensive drive, East Union was given free yardage and a first down due to a defensive pass interference in the redzone. East Union scored on that drive, extending its lead to 16-0 after Salinas’ successful two-point conversion.
“It definitely helps when they have miscues that you know we can capitalize on and give our defense a breather,” Kuhnlenz said. “Any time we can capitalize on the other team’s mistakes, that’s going to help you in the long run.”
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.