Perfect Placer wins Pioneer Valley League title
Joey Montoya got a special birthday present.
The Placer coach witnessed his team overcome an 11-point first-half deficit, four turnovers, a slew of questionable calls, and the human bowling ball of butcher knives that is D'Juan Bellaire.
When it was all said and done Montoya's Hillmen came out on top of a 15-14 decision Friday night in a winner-take-all match for the Pioneer Valley League crown over the Center Cougars.
“It’s been a long time in the making,” Montoya said of winning the title, which has been within his team’s reach for several seasons.
The Cougars (8-2, 4-1), who hadn't lost since their season opener, had a chance to take the lead late but quarterback Tyrel Anderson slipped on a wet, muddy field at LeFebvre Stadium facing a fourth-and-2 with 1:13 to go at the Hillmen's 22-yard line.
“Home-field advantage,” Montoya quipped.
Placer took over on downs and after lining up in victory formation for two plays, the Hillmen (10-0, 5-0) had won their first PVL title on Montoya's 34th birthday.
“It’s an amazing feeling you can’t even describe,” said Isaac Brahce, who rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown.
The Hillmen will host a playoff game next week. They figure to be the top seed in either Div. III or IV when brackets are released Saturday around 5 p.m. Montoya and his players apparently don’t have a preference where they land.
“Doesn’t matter,” said Todd Valliere, who ran for 92 yards and the title-clinching score.
Before the game, Cal-Hi Sports Editor Mark Tennis, who was at the Hillmen game, told the Journal Placer is more than likely to fall to Div. IV because of enrollment.
Placer trailed at halftime, 14-3, for the first time this season as Bellaire bounced around like a bowling ball for 142 yards and a TD on 22 carries against the vaunted Hillmen defense.
“We were a little flat,” Montoya said, “you got to give Center some credit.”
But the Hillmen were able to shut down Bellaire in the final two quarters, holding him to just 21 second-half rushing yards. Third- and fourth-quarter scores from Brahce and Valliere stood up for Placer, which pitched a shutout in the final 24 minutes.
“Second half it really kicked in — we’re not losing on our home turf,” said Placer’s Eddie Vanderdoes. “Last game for the PVL championship, on Montoya’s birthday, we’re refusing to lose second half.”
Reach Matthew Kimel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @matthewkimel