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The Hillmen are back

Placer rides strong first half to win over Dixon, first trip to title game in 27 years
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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DIXON — In late October, Jake Lopez was hobbling on a sprained ankle and the Placer High football team was down in the dumps. The Sac-Joaquin Section had taken away three of their four victories and the Hillmen were hurting after a humbling 35-14 loss to Bear River. Six weeks later, Lopez and the Hillmen are somehow still on the football field. The speedy senior scored on a 58-yard touchdown run and returned an interception 37 yards for another TD in Dixon Friday night as the Hillmen held off the Rams for a 24-21 victory, earning an improbable trip to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV title game. “Not many teams put the pads away and then get to play again, so we’re just trying to take advantage of it,” Lopez said. “I was able to rest my ankle and I’m feeling great right now.” Placer last played in the section final in 1981, when coach Joey Montoya’s grandfather, Bill Miller, was the team’s co-coach. “It’s amazing,” said Placer senior Brad Moller, who helped the Hillmen hold Dixon to just 59 rushing yards on 33 carries. “I never thought I’d get here from all that we’ve been through. It’s just amazing and it’s great for Placer. It puts us back where we want to be.” The Hillmen will face undefeated Whitney, which beat Placer on Nov. 14 in the teams’ Pioneer Valley League finale, for the section title. The Wildcats beat Sierra 51-28 Friday night in Rocklin. The title game will be played 7:30 p.m. Friday at Folsom High School. Placer (8-4) used a superb first half to oust Dixon, but they had to survive a sloppy second half. Rams quarterback Jeffrey Anderson threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Robby Coates with 1 minute, 41 seconds left in the game, putting the 1,000-plus Placer fans on the edge of their seats after the Hillmen had enjoyed a comfortable 24-7 halftime lead. But Asher Gotzmer pounced on the ensuing onside kick and Placer drained the clock, setting off a wild celebration on Dixon’s grass field. A bad snap on a punt led to a third-quarter touchdown for Dixon. A fourth-quarter fumble gave the Rams a prime opportunity for another score, but Placer’s defense held strong after Dixon had first down and goal at the 4-yard line. “I felt like we gave them every chance to win it in the second half,” Montoya said. “But despite all the adversity again, our kids fought through it. I could not be more proud of them.” After the Rams marched down the field for a touchdown on their first drive of the game, the Hillmen took over. Cameron Southward booted a 36-yard field goal on Placer’s first possession. After forcing a three-and-out, the Hillmen got the ball back and Lopez took off down the right Rams’ sideline for his longest TD run of the year. Placer snuffed out a promising Dixon drive early in the second quarter, but was forced to punt on its next possession. After Dixon got the ball back, Lopez was there to make another big play. After senior Jordan Arndt got his hand on an Anderson pass, Lopez grabbed the deflection. He took the ball 37 yards the other way to give Placer a 17-7 lead. “Jordan came up and got the tip and then he gave me a beautiful block,” Lopez said. After forcing another three-and-out, Placer again struck with the big play. Quarterback Matt Ross found Gotzmer open down the right sideline and the junior caught the 33-yard touchdown pass despite a penalty for defensive pass interference on the play. Gotzmer finished with 94 rushing yards on 10 carries and caught three passes for 60 yards. Lopez rushed for a game-high 111 yards on 10 carries. Junior Josh Klem had a spectacular interception in the third quarter and was sensational on defense all night. Seth Parrish had a huge sack in the second quarter and Moller was a disruptive force all night. Placer’s defense emerged as a savior once again after many had questioned the Hillmen’s ability to stop the opposition earlier this season. The Hillmen held the Rams to 237 yards of total offense and forced two turnovers. They stopped Dixon twice on fourth down. After posting a 3-7 record last season in Montoya's first season as coach, Placer will play for its sixth section title in his second year. One publication in Sacramento picked the Hillmen to finish sixth in the Pioneer Valley League. “That was fuel for our fire,” Klem said. “We wanted to prove everyone wrong. All the ups and downs have just made us come together like brothers.”