Fans roar as Hillmen soar

Placer reclaims glory days with return to final
By: Eric J. Gourley, Journal Sports Writer
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DIXON — Dalton Dyer felt right at home on the south sideline at Dixon High’s new football stadium Friday night.     In front of nearly 2,000 family, friends and classmates, the Hillmen continued their tumultuous journey through the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs, downing the Rams 24-21 to advance to the championship game for the first time since 1981.     “Our fans are the main part of everything,” said Dyer, the junior whose ruling as an ineligible player in three Pioneer Valley League wins by the California Interscholastic Federation was overturned by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Judith Ford, putting Placer back in the playoffs.     “They keep us in the game, all game,” Dyer said, grinning ear-to-ear. “They’re always there, always screaming. It felt like home. It feels great to give this to them.”     Droves of Hillmen supporters braved 40-degree temperatures, nearly filling the south bleachers. “It just shows how important this program is to the community,” head coach Joey Montoya said. “I think the storyline behind the team adds to the drama, and I think people just want to support it. People take for granted sometimes going to the playoffs and especially going to the section title game. The community and the school and our football team, none of us are taking it for granted. We all feel very blessed to be going where we’re going.”     Among the fans was James Letcher, a 1982 Placer graduate who played with the Hillmen on the section champion team during his junior year.     “This is outstanding,” said Letcher, whose daughter is a freshman at Placer. “This just couldn’t be better right now.”     Placer senior Donovan Buttram and four friends each painted a letter of Hillmen senior Blake Schaffer’s first name and number nine on gold shirts.     “I believed in them from the start,” Buttram said. “I think the support helped them a lot. This is real special. It hasn’t happened in forever. Everyone’s so happy.”     None more so than Montoya, whose grandfather Bill Miller co-coached Placer to its last section title 27 years ago.     “The student body, on a scale of one to 10, they’ve been a 12,” Montoya said. “Their support has been awesome. Their spirit and the energy around school is so high. They were as upset about what was happening as we were, which just goes to show you how much these kids care. Placer High School is full of phenomenal kids. I’m lucky to be working there.”     Placer’s cheer squad was also out in full force Friday after 10 girls made the trip to Oakdale during the Thanksgiving holiday to watch the Hillmen stun the defending section champions in the first round.     “We really believe in our team and it’s so awesome that we’re here,” sophomore cheerleader Jami Davis said. “We had heard we definitely weren’t going to go to the playoffs, so when they gave us the wins back and we were allowed to go, we were so relieved and overwhelmed and excited.     “We really feed off the crowd,” Davis said. “They’re amazing. We almost had more fans than (Dixon) did.”     When second-year cheer coach Julie Kerr walked into the stadium, she thought she had entered on the home side.     “I thought the whole school was here,” Kerr said. “The spirit was amazing. You could tell it totally increased as the season went on. You could tell that people had a lot of hope.”     Assistant quarterbacks coach Jim Rodarte, who coached running backs and quarterbacks under co-coaches Miller and Tom Johnson in 1980 and 1981, has watched that hope materialize in the Hillmen this season.     “It’s different than it was back then — these kids are so loose,” Rodarte said. “Nothing fazes them. I thought we would be back here, but I didn’t think it would be this quickly. All the adversity they’ve gone through this year, they deserve this.” The Journal’s Eric Gourley can be reached at