Three points is all that separated the Placer High football team from making history.
After rallying from 21 points down in the Northern California final against Salinas for a glorious 43-42 overtime victory, the Hillmen fell just under two minutes short of capturing the Division 4-AA State Championship against Crenshaw.
But it was not a season short of accomplishment. The Hillmen went 13-2 in 2017 and captured their sixth consecutive league title – a nice undefeated parting gift from the Pioneer Valley League – and rewarded head coach Joey Montoya with his first Sac-Joaquin Section Championship.
“It was a special year,” said Montoya, who enters his 12th season patrolling the Placer sidelines. “It was my fifth trip to the show… Every year we’ve been here, we’ve felt like we could get to that level. As great as last year was and as great as those memories are, that was last year. This is a whole new ballgame.”
A new ballgame with a new playing field entering the newly formed Foothill Valley League. Placer and Lincoln exit the PVL and join Nevada Union, Oakmont, Ponderosa and Rio Linda through the 2022 season. The Hillmen and the Fighting Zebras, with an abundance of talent returning this season, seem to be early favorites. The two former PVL foes collectively went 21-5 last year, while all other new FVL teams were a combined 18-24.
But don’t be fooled, says Montoya.
“I think we’re going into this league at the perfect time,” he said. “It’s the great unknown. Our kids don’t know what to expect. It’s going to be a heck of a league. There are no slouches. We really embrace the challenge. We’re excited about being the small school in the league.”
Sure, Placer is a small school, but it has a large number or returning players who were either All-League or All-Metro in 2017, including Oregon commit Joey Capra, Nevada-Reno commit Blake Baughman and Colton McElroy to bolster an offensive line that returns six starters to ensure protection for senior quarterback Michael Stuck, another All-Metro Honorable Mention returnee.
“It’s great,” laughed Stuck with an ‘Are you kidding me?’ type of tone. “I’m, like, the most blessed quarterback of all time.”
The Hillmen also return Marshall Chapman, whose 1480 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns as a junior were the most in the entire section. Louis Fudge, who Montoya thinks will be a college tight end, and Brad Bishop also return to an offense that averaged over 40 points per game last year.
Defensively, Chase Laguana-Scott was a Top 10 tackler in the section in 2017 from the linebacker position. Hans Grassman, Andrew Garza, Micah Yokum, Kyle Christensen and Ian Howes, among others, will anchor the rest of the defensive front.
“This team is amazing,” said Capra. “I think we’ll do as good or better this year. We’re very lucky to have (returning players), but you definitely have to have the motivation to do it again. You can’t just expect it.”
Just as Montoya said; it’s a new year; a new league; a new opportunity to return to unfinished business.
“We’re nails,” said a confident Stuck. “A lot of the sophomores who are now juniors have got to go, ‘I’ve got to step up. I’ve got shoes to fill. I’ve got to be a guy.’ We’re just carrying on the tradition that’s been here for a long time.”