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It was an awesome run

Season's extraordinary journey ends as Placer falls to Whitney in title game
By: Eric Gourley, Journal Sports Writer
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FOLSOM — Hugs abounded in the visitors locker room outside Folsom High’s Prairie City Stadium. Placer’s extraordinary journey through the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs fell short, ending with a 35-14 loss to Whitney in the title game Friday night. As the Wildcats — in just their third year as a varsity program — celebrated their first section championship in the south end zone, Hillmen seniors shared stories and thanked coaches one last time. “I couldn’t have asked for any better group of guys to fight with,” senior running back Jake Lopez said. “We’re just happy that we got the program in the right direction and hopefully it keeps taking off from here.” Placer’s run began before the team ever took the field with victory over the California Interscholastic Federation, which had forced the team to forfeit three victories due to a rules infraction. An Oakland judge overturned the CIF’s ruling last month. That win paved the way for courageous upsets at defending section champion Oakdale and powerhouse Dixon, resulting in Placer’s first section final appearance since 1981. “Getting here, it hurts that we didn’t win but Placer hasn’t been in this position in 27 years and we are the team that brought it back,” senior running back Seth Parrish said. “We brought it back and people will remember us.” Frank Pinguelo knows all about leaving an unforgettable mark on the Hillmen football program. He led the 1975 team to the school’s first section title. “What they did here this year was just fantastic,” Pinguelo said. “They had their growing pains as well, but this team is very resilient. The integrity of this ball club was absolutely phenomenal. These kids have nothing to hang their heads about. They’re Cinderella and to get this far is a huge accomplishment.” In his second season at the helm, Joey Montoya transformed a program that finished 3-7 last year into Placer’s first playoff team since 2000. “Usually second-year head coaches in a program, you don’t get to this spot,” Montoya said. “I’m proud of the kids. It never is a lost cause when you get to the final. Obviously we didn’t accomplish our ultimate goal but we still have a ton of things that we did accomplish that we can be proud of.” Accomplishments seniors like Parrish won’t soon forget. “Joey’s done such a great job and his coaching staff is very talented. They know how to motivate us in the right way,” Parrish said. “They’re just great teachers. They taught us how to play football the way it’s supposed to be played.” It took a season-best performance by Whitney running back Zack Graves to beat the Hillmen in the championship. Behind a brutal offensive line, Graves ran 38 times for a season-high 298 yards and three touchdowns. “It’s definitely disappointing that we lost,” senior center Eric Milka said. “Winning this was our goal since last November when we started lifting weights and everything. It’s just been an awesome run playing with these guys. Memories are made.” They may not have taken home the banner, but these Hillmen left a lasting legacy. “It’s something the juniors and sophomores are going to be able to follow,” Montoya said. “That’s something they can take with them and be proud of for the rest of their lives.” The Journal’s Eric Gourley can be reached at ericg@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com.