Hillmen take on Foothill in playoff

Riding the wing-T to football success
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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“Leave no doubt.” That’s been the mantra for the Placer High School football team throughout the summer and fall as they collected wins and captured the attention of an Auburn community thirsty for a return to gridiron glory. A cohesive unit on and off the field, the 45-member Hillmen squad plays Foothill High School’s Mustangs tonight in a first-round playoff game at Auburn’s LeFebvre Stadium. Defensive end Michael Gray said the team has used the “Leave no doubt” saying as a motivator this year during their 9-1 season. With the playoffs and the memory of last year’s section championship loss to Whitney still fresh in their minds, “Leave no doubt” is taking on added significance. “It’s about giving your all and leaving no doubt that you did,” Gray said. “It’s about leaving it all on the field, especially in the playoff games.” This year’s march to the playoffs included last week’s emotional victory over Rocklin’s Whitney High School, which beat Placer in the 2008 section final. “This year, we want more,” Gray said. “Everything’s just elevated.” Josh Klem, Placer’s tight-end/linebacker, said that the away game win at Whitney was the best moment so far for him during the season. Like many other seniors on the team, Klem has been a Hillman for all three of head coach Joey Montoya’s initial seasons with the team. Montoya arrived in the 2007 season from Woodland’s Pioneer High School with a wing-T formation that had been tried unsuccessfully at the school in the early 1990s but has done wonders for other high school programs. The formation uses motion and subterfuge to throw off defenses and make big plays. Players can work with several different running or passing plays from a single formation, causing confusion among defenses. Junior quarterback Collin Burnett, who started playing the wing-T as a freshman, said the formation is designed for teams that don’t necessarily have the skill players every year. But the beauty of the wing-T for Placer teams is that they have had the talent as well as the work ethic to take the formation to the next level, Burnett said. Klem said teammates had heard about Montoya’s success in Woodland. Prior to that, Montoya – a Placer High graduate – had been an assistant coach at Nevada Union High School, which also uses the wing-T. “We bought into the system and it’s taken us far,” Klem said. Montoya also brought an infectious enthusiasm to practices and games. Not a yeller on the field, he’s more of a motivator and tactician. “He’s very competitive and just ‘go, go, go,’” Gray said. Running back Asher Gotzmer said football has been a big part of his life at Placer for the past four years. “And it just keeps getting better,” Gotzmer said. “As a group, we’ve had fun every day. I look forward to every time I come out here (practice or games at LeFebvre Stadium).” Montoya said Thursday that he has now established the wing-T on Placer Junior Hillmen developmental teams down to the early-elementary school Mighty Mites level. At Placer, the freshman team went 9-1 and won the Pioneer Valley League championship. The junior varsity team finished a strong 7-3. “They were very competitive in every game,” Montoya said. Friday’s game will give a possible capacity crowd a look at the precision of a formation that has resulted in a near-perfect season that the team is attempting to stretch into a playoff run to the Division IV section championship. But it’s also a look at the future of Placer High football – with a wing-T offense and a shut-down defense holding the promise of more banners on the walls of the school’s Earl Crabbe Gym. “We’re building a foundation from the ground up,” Montoya said. “We have good kids from the Hillman program moving up who have the experience with the wing-T. The future is definitely bright.” ----------------------------- Placer Hillmen vs. Foothill Mustangs What: First-round playoff game. First home playoff game for Placer since 1980. Where: Placer High School’s LeFebvre Stadium Game time: 7 tonight (Spectators are being advised to arrive by 6:30 p.m. “at the latest”) Full coverage: Story and photos posted at no later than midnight Ticket prices: Adults $9 and students $5 with school ID. Elementary students are $5. Senior citizens are $5. Playoff ticket prices set by the California Interscholastic Federation Sac-Joaquin Section. Souvenirs: Programs and souvenir game T-shirts will be sold. Weather: Rain showers possible during the game, which will be played whatever the weather. Nighttime temperature will drop to lows of 31 to 41 degrees. Winds 10 to 15 mph with gusts up to 35 mph. Noise limits: All whistles, airhorns and other air-powered or mechanically powered devices prohibited.