Written and compiled by Mitch Stephens
Placer’s remarkable playoff run is going the distance.
The team that was left out of the playoffs but then in an unprecedented case, ordered back in by an Alameda County judge, pulled off its second major upset on the road in two weeks with a 24-21 Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinal victory over Dixon on Friday night.
Jake Lopez scored on a 60-yard run and 40-yard interception return vaulting the Hillmen to a 24-7 halftime lead and into next week’s championship game against Pioneer Valley League rival Whitney.
It is the first time Placer qualified for a championship game since they won the title in 1981. Placer coach Joey Montoya’s grandfather Bill Miller was the coach of that team and Montoya’s dad Joe was the receiver’s coach.
That makes all this even more special.
Montoya is in just his second season for the Hillmen.
“It’s definitely been surreal the last couple weeks,” Montoya said via a phone call on his team bus afterward. “I couldn’t be prouder of my kids. Like I keep saying, God works in mysterious ways.”
The court order made national news and came three days before Thanksgiving and Placer, which hadn’t practiced in over a week, then went in and defeated heavily-favored and defending champion Oakdale 27-14.
In that game, Oakdale easily scored on its first possession before Placer (8-4) responded with 19 straight points.
On Friday, the script was almost identical as Dixon (9-3) scored early to take a 7-0 lead before the Hillmen took absolute control by halftime.
First Cameron Southward connected on a 35-yard field goal, then Lopez bolted for his 60-yard run. Matt Ross then hit Asher Gotzmer for a 30-yard TD, before Lopez picked off a pass and rambled 40 yards for another score.
Just like that, Placer was in utter control. Or so it seemed.
Dixon shut down Placer in the second half and got two touchdowns, the second with less than two minutes remaining. But Gotzmer recovered an onside kick and the Hillmen were moving on.
“That was a great team we just beat,” Montoya said. “I thought our defense was outstanding and we moved the ball against their defense which had given up 104 points all year.”
According to the Sacramento Bee, Lopez finished with 117 yards rushing on 11 carries and Gotzmer added 96 yards on nine attempts. Dixon’s Jeffrey Anderson was 17 of 31 for 189 yards and two touchdowns.
Asked if he ever imagined getting to the title game, not only in the midst of the forfeits and court ordeal, but before the season began and Montoya said:
“We knew we had a really good team,” he said. “(The Sacramento Bee) picked us sixth out of seven teams in our league and that definitely put a little chip on our shoulder. We just kept working hard every day, even through all the (court stuff).
“I think after we beat Oakdale last week, we kinda felt like anything was possible. If we could beat them on the road then we could beat about any one.”
Whitney might be another matter. The Wildcats (12-0) won at Placer 34-12 on Nov. 14 and outscored opponents 478-140 this season.
“They’re the real deal,” Montoya said. “But I’m thinking we’re pretty real at this point as well.”
More highlights from the Sac-Joaquin Section
Whitney 51, Sierra 28
The section’s leading rusher Zack Graves rushed 31 times for 250 yards and three touchdowns as Whitney moved back to the Division IV title game, where it lost last year to Oakdale.
Grant 55, Burbank 6
The Pacers (13-0), ranked 49th nationally, made its final case a convincing one as talented junior tailback Devontae Booker rushed 22 times for 207 yards and three touchdowns lifting Grant to a Division II title-game victory. Quarterback Kipeli Koniseti added two touchdown scores and Marvin Lamb returned a fumble 35 yards for another score. Grant, which won its sixth SJS title since 1992, is now likely in a three-way scrum with perennial national power De La Salle (North Coast Section) and Central Coast Section Open champion Bellarmine (see result below) for two Northern California Bowl bids. See MaxPreps senior writer Kevin Askeland’s story on this game later today.
Marysville 33, Lindhurst 19
After going 2-7-1 last year, Marysville won the Division VII championship as James Chambless rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns. A 26-0 spurt in the third quarter lifted the winners past the two-time defending champions.
Pleasant Grove 26, Laguna Creek 6
In the Sacramento City championship, Michael Madkins rushed for 130 yards including a pair of fourth quarter touchdown runs as Pleasant Grove, a third-year program, won going away.
Clovis West 24, Clovis East 7
The banner season continued for Clovis West, which won its fourth Division I section crown this fall following girls golf, tennis and water polo. Led by defenders Nathan Fellner, Anthony Elliott and Travis Brown, West rolled to the victory for its eighth section football crown. First-year quarterback Jeff Tuel completed 12 of 16 for 121 yards and a touchdown, plush he ran 15 times for 80 yards and a score.
El Diamante 21, Edison 15
In a Division II semifinal game, Justin Jeffries secured an interception late to help secure the victory. The defending champion Miners (11-1) will now play Tulare, a 38-20 winner over Sanger, in next week’s title game. Stefphon Jefferson rushed 35 times for 243 yards and two scores. Edison (9-3), coached by former 49ers defensive back Tim McDonald, took a 15-7 lead with 3:57 left in the third quarter on a Dwayne Scott 10-yard run but couldn’t overcome four turnovers.
Tulare 38, Sanger 20
In the other Div. II semifinal game, Tulare scored three touchdowns in the third quarter to earn a spot in the finals. Sanger had fought back from a 19-0 deficit to take a 20-19 lead, but Tulare took the lead for good on a 19-yard pass from James Guerrero to Marquess Williams, followed by a 17-yard fumble return for a TD by Calvin Haynes. Jontell Reeedom (17 carries, 148 yards) sealed it with a 32-yard scoring run. Sanger was led by Michael Torrejos (20-174). El Diamante beat Tulare 63-14 in the title game last season.
Bakersfield Christian 62, Fowler 20
Derek Carr, younger brother of NFL quarterback David Carr, threw for more than 400 yards and six touchdowns in the Division V semifinal game. It was the second straight game Carr threw for six TDs.
Corcoran 49, Mission Prep 10
Brant Botill rushed for 287 yards and four touchdowns and added a 55-yard interception return for another touchdown leading Corcoran in a semifinal game. Corcoran’s defense intercepted five passes.
Chowchilla 26, Washington 17
Rob Diepersloat completed fourth-down TD passes to Jordin Rogers and Fred Gaines to send Chowchilla into the title game for the fourth time in five years.
Tranquility 30, Orange Cove 26
Fabian Flores rushed 32 times for 302 yards including touchdown runs of 3, 22, 50 and 34 yards as Tranquility won the first-ever Section title game in school’s 89-year history. The Division VI title game was at Orange Cove, a four-year-old school looking for its first title in any sport.
CENTRAL COAST SECTION
Bellarmine Prep 21, Valley Christian 0
In a game with major bowl implications, Stanford-bound Usua Amanam rushed 20 times for 263 yards and three long touchdowns in the Open Division championship game before more than 8,000 fans at San Jose City College. Bellarmine (12-1), ranked 40th nationally, will now battle Sac-Joaquin Section champion Grant and likely NCS champion De La Salle for two state Bowl bids. Bellarmine’s lone loss was to Serra, which it came back to beat in the CCS semifinals. Amanam scored on runs of 33, 88 and 95 yards and finished with 727 yards and 10 TDs in three playoff wins. Valley Christian (10-3), ranked 95th nationally, was vying for a Northern California Division II Bowl berth, but only Section title winners are eligible.
Menlo-Atherton 39, Wilcox 33
A goal-line stand and two kickoff returns for touchdowns by Vaughn Smith lifted Menlo-Atherton to the wild Large School championship at Foothill College. The special teams’ touchdowns gave the win to Menlo-Atherton, which was outgained 443-275 and had less offensive plays, 72-40.
LOS ANGELES CITY SECTION
Narbonne 25, Crenshaw 24
Josh Moten completed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Dannie Farber with one minute left and Melvin Davis (6-2, 220) powered in the two-point conversion giving Narbonne the improbable semifinal victory.
Crenshaw, which got big performances from DeAnthony Thomas (163 yards rushing) and Geno Hall (four catches, 104 yards) led 24-17 with just over two minutes remaining but inexplicable went for it on 4th-and-2 on its own 39. The play went for only one yard and Narbonne went in and scored the game winner. Crenshaw didn’t help itself with four missed extra points.
USC-bound Byron Moore Jr. had a punt return for 74 yards for one score and set up a field goal with another long return, this one of 58 yards.
San Pedro 27, Taft 7
Joseph Deguchi rushed for 127 yards and Robert Franco added two touchdowns leading San Pedro into next week’s City championship game at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Barry Heads also completed a 23-yard TD pass to Benny Weischedel.
Arleta 42, Wilson 20
In an Invitational semifinal game, Oscar Sanchez rushed for 149 yards and four touchdowns and quarterback Bryan Choto threw for 183 and rushed for 124 more. Arleta will play Franklin, a 13-6 semifinal winner over Roosevelt, in the title game at East Los Angeles College.
NORTH COAST SECTION
De La Salle 42, Foothill 7
The defending state Division I Bowl Champion and perennial national power Spartans (11-1) took a 35-0 lead in this semifinal game and never looked back over Foothill (9-3), which got 256 yards passing from Sean Mannion. Terron Ward had TD runs of 62 and 41 yards and Blake Wayne connected with Michael Dosen for second-quarter TD passes of 9, 51 and 42 yards. De La Salle is ranked 31st nationally by MaxPreps.
Cardinal Newman 38, Campolindo 28
In a Division II semifinal game, Jeff Badger rushed 27 times for 239 yards and two touchdowns and quarterback Randy Wright rushed for two more scores as the Cardinals (12-0) continue to look like their in the driver’s seat for a State Bowl Game bid. Tommy Stephens (20 of 39, 247 yards, 2 TDs) stood out for Campolindo (10-2).
Clayton Valley 30, Las Lomas 14
In a Division II semifinal game, Nick Cole had seven receptions for 131 yards and three touchdowns and Clayton Valley (12-0) forced seven turnovers en route to a 23-0 halftime lead. Las Lomas (9-4) scored two touchdowns late to make it respectable.
Encinal 19, Marin Catholic 14
The Jets (12-0) continued their remarkable season as Xavier Milton ran back a punt 94 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter after catching a 55-yard scoring strike in the first as Encinal advanced to the Division III championship game. Encinal started the season with just 22 players. Nico Dumont rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown for Marin Catholic (9-4).
Justin Siena 28, Salesian 14
Rich Cotruvo finished off one of his finest coaching jobs ever as Daniel Pardini scored two fourth quarter touchdowns as the Braves (9-4) won the Division IV title game at Alhambra High. Pardini finished with 170 rushing on 15 carries, offsetting a big game from Matt Ching (26-175) for the Pride (9-3).
St. Vincent 30, St. Elizabeth 6
Josh Wheless threw for 200 yards and two touchdowns and Cullen Carroll rushed for a touchdown and had 11 tackles, leading St. Vincent to the Division V championship game win.
Long Beach Poly 20, Lakewood 10
At Cerritos College in Norwalk, the nation’s No. 14 team survived this Pac-5 Division semifinal playoff thanks to a pair of late interceptions by Stan McKay and Darius Williams-Fox that set up Poly’s last two scores to break a 10-10 deadlock.
Poly (13-0) now attempts to win its second straight Pac-5 championship against today’s Orange Lutheran-Tesoro matchup. Poly was not selected to a Bowl game last year but figures to be so if victorious next week.
They almost didn’t pull it out Friday as Lakewood (6-7), which had four forfeits earlier in the year for a paperwork snafu, committed the two turnovers and backup kicker Alan Roniss kicked a 21-yard field goal to give the Jackrabbits a 13-10 lead. Melvin Richardson (140 yards rushing, two TDs) then added insurance with a 36-yard touchdown run.
Lakewood, ranked 64th nationally, actually led 10-0 on an eight-yard TD pass to Kevin Anderson. Jerry Stone ran for 99 of his 115 yards in the first half. Poly has not given up more than 17 points during its 25-game win streak.
Centennial 38, Murrieta Valley 17
The nation’s No. 16 team (13-0) used a familiar tandem – Taylor Martinez and Arthur Burns – to the semifinal victory. The Huskies, who lost to De La Salle in last year’s Division I State Bowl Game, got 264 yards passing and a TD from Martinez and 143 yards rushing and four scores from Burns. Nick Beasley added eight catches and 123 yards for the winners, who play the Temecula Chaparral and Norco winner.
St. Bonaventure 35, Saugus 8
Devon Blackledge rushed for 156 yards and three touchdowns as the defending state Division III Bowl Champion Seraphs (12-1) raced to a 35-0 lead en route to the Northern Division semifinal victory. St. Bonaventure’s only loss was at Long Beach Poly (12-7) in October. The Seraphs are ranked 92nd nationally.
Oaks Christian 29, Morro Bay 7
The Lions (13-0) are a win away from their sixth straight division title as one of the state’s top juniors Malcolm Jones scored three touchdowns in the first half to win going away. Oaks Christian will play the winner of Serra and El Segundo. Brian Owusu added the Lions’ final points with an 87-yard kickoff return.
Rancho Cucamonga 23, Cajon (San Bernardino) 13
Despite a power outage that delayed the game an hour, Rancho Cucamonga moved into the title game.
Citrus Hill 18, Phelan Serrano 15
A late 5-yard touchdown run by Deontae Cooper lifted Citrius Hill to the Eastern Division semifinal victory.
Riverside Christian 34, Mojave 7
Jon Harris rushed 39 times for 203 yards and four touchdowns leading the Cougars (12-1) to the Northeast semifinal victory.
Mira Costa 20, Palmdale 14
The Mustangs (10-3) won their seventh straight utilizing a balanced running attack that totaled 294 yards in a Western Division semifinal game. Kellen Lockwood led the attack with 71 yards rushing and a score and teammate Chris Loatman added 72 yards in seven carries. Palmdale was led by Brandon Mimms, who accounted for 149 yards of offense and both touchdowns.
Tustin 63, Canyon 28
It was a near perfect night for host Tustin, which scored on all nine of its possessions in a rout of Canyon in a Southwest semifinal game. The Tillers (9-4) will play either La Habra or Trabuco Hills in the championship game next week at Angels Stadium. In three playoff games, Tustin has scored a whopping 188 points.
St. Margaret’s 63, Maranatha 0
The Tartans tied an Orange County record with its 41st consecutive victory in an East Valley Division semifinal game. With a victory next week against the Fillmore-Twentynine Palms winner, St. Margaret’s would likely be selected into the new small-school State Bowl game. Harry Welch would then become the first coach to lead two different teams to the state-title game. In the initial 2006 Bowl season, Welch led Canyon Country to a victory over De La Salle in the Division I State Bowl game.
Laguna Hills 42, Norwalk 8
In a Southern Division semifinal game, Laguna Hills romped.
Information gathered from newspaper websites at San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee, Orange County Register, Riverside Press-Enterprise, Los Angeles Daily News