Legends of the fall

Looking back on 2008-09: Placer Fall
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Combine a long-awaited playoff berth, a monumental upset on the road, some courtroom drama and spectacular play on the field and what do you get? At Placer High, it was the most memorable football season in nearly three decades. The Hillmen bolted to a 3-2 record through the first half of the season. That’s when the roller coaster ride took off. On Oct. 23 — the day before Placer faced Bear River in a huge Pioneer Valley League showdown — coach Joey Montoya broke the news to his team that the Hillmen would forfeit their three victories due to the use of an ineligible player. A 35-14 loss to the Bruins followed. Placer regrouped for wins at Lincoln and at Colfax before facing Whitney in the regular-season finale. The Hillmen lost 35-14 and believed their season was over. One week later as Colfax — the PVL’s then-third place team — was on its way to face Oakdale, word came down that Placer would have an appeal hearing on its forfeits in an Oakland courtroom. On Monday, Nov. 24 an Oakland judge ruled that Placer junior Dalton Dyer should have been eligible all season after transferring from Bethel in Vallejo prior to the season. Dyer’s status as a foster child was the basis for the ruling. With their three wins restored, the Hillmen earned the PVL’s third seed and would face defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV champion Oakdale. Placer put together a monumental effort and made statewide news with its 27-14 dismantling of the Mustangs at The Corral. On Dec. 6, the Hillmen hit the road again and pulled off another stunner — holding off Dixon 24-21. The Rams had eliminated Bear River in the first round of the playoffs. Placer earned a rematch with Whitney in the section title game. Wildcats’ star Zach Graves proved too much for the Hillmen — and every other team on the Whitney schedule. Graves rushed for 302 yards and three touchdowns in the 35-14 victory. Coach Joey Montoya watched his team battle through the emotional highs and lows to make the section title game in his second season at Placer. “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.” The Hillmen didn’t produce overwhelming statistics, but a balanced offense and a defense that steadily improved throughout the year led Placer to its first section title game since 1981. “We just wanted to create a legacy here,” senior linebacker Jon Slane said. “And I think we did. We brought winning back here and we want it to keep going.” The Placer volleyball team was hit by the loss of standout hitter Kelsey Johnson prior to the season. The Hillgals were just 2-5 heading into PVL play. They turned it around in impressive fashion, rolling to the first outright league championship in school history. Led by seniors Shelby Madigan, Melissa Stoll and Sydney Leftridge, the Hillgals edged Colfax in five games late in the season to clinch the league title. Placer posted playoff wins over Center at home and Sonora on the road before falling to eventual section champ St. Mary’s in the Division III semifinals. “I’m extremely pleased with our season,” coach Jennifer Wright said. “We won the Pioneer Valley League outright for the first time in Placer history. We made it to the third round of the playoffs for the first time in Placer history. “But we’ve got a bunch of girls who want to be in the championship game. They’re not satisfied, and I’m thrilled about that.” The only thing that changed for the Placer cross country program was the names at the top of the podium. Juniors Shannon Harcus and Lucas Stancliff won their respective individual crowns, leading the Hillmen and Hillgals to team titles.