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Placer-Bear River rivalry a big hit

Teams trade blows on the field, then show great team spirit, sportsmanship off of it
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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It’s tough living in enemy territory. But Jim Nieto is grateful his neighbors’ weapons are usually just rolls of toilet paper.
The Bear River High principal lives in Auburn’s Skyridge neighborhood, home to many Placer faithful. He’s come to expect some decorations on his lawn each year when Placer and Bear River get together on the football field.
“This is the third year,” Nieto said. “The way it started was there were some women in the neighborhood (Sydney Allinger and Julie Huston) who have sons that play at Placer, so when they were freshmen they did it the night before the game. I got them back the next day.”
This year, the Bruins fought back again. Placer teacher and girls basketball coach Tony Camillucci, who lives in the same neighborhood, woke up Friday morning to Bear River “decorations” in his yard.
“He was a target of opportunity,” Nieto said. “He was collateral damage.”
The fun rivalry has become a part of life in the Nieto house. Jim’s son Andrew grew up going to school in Auburn before attending high school at Bear River and graduating last year. Daughter Ava, who is now a sixth grader at E.V. Cain Middle School, plans to attend Placer.
Nieto is accustomed to some ribbing from neighbors. He roots for Los Angeles’ Dodgers and Lakers, making him a natural enemy for Giants and Kings fans. But the high school rivalry between the Bruins and Hillmen is part of what makes the foothills schools special.
“It’s just a part of good sportsmanship and competition,” said Nieto, who is in his sixth year as principal at Bear River. “I think it’s one of the lessons you learn from playing sports. It adds another dimension to education. For us it’s fun, and it should be for the kids, too.”
Replaying the hits
Last Friday’s football game at Bear River featured the kind of pad-popping, helmet-jarring hits that make a mother gasp and a father ooh and ah.
Peter Denham was the victim of a vicious — but perfectly legal — crunch by Bruin linebacker Cody Heard in the second quarter. The Placer quarterback remained on the ground for several minutes with a shoulder injury that leaves his status in question for the coming weeks.
You could have heard the crack of a fourth-quarter collision between Placer senior Anthony Hess and Bear River’s Jimmy Bamburg from Le Febvre Stadium. Bamburg caught a short pass and was rumbling up the middle when Hess flew in from the secondary and the two smacked into each other.
Hess was flagged for helmet-to-helmet contact on the play, though it’s tough to see how it could have been avoided. Both players were going full speed and naturally lowered their shoulders. Both players got up slowly and sat out the next play to recover.
The referees probably made the right call according to the rulebook, but it’s a tough penalty to take for a player using his instincts and following solid football fundamentals.
Placer won the game 10-6 and afterward, players and coaches were all class. Many of the hard hitters offered condolences and congratulations to each other on the way off the field.
Kickin’ it in two sports
Both Placer and Colfax football teams have found help in the kicking department on their respective soccer squads.
Senior Ulises Arellano tends goal for the Hillmen soccer team during the week. On Friday nights he’s in pads for Placer. He’s been reliable on extra points and has improved each week on kickoffs, getting plenty of practice with Placer’s prolific offense.
The Gold Mine cheering section has even been heard chanting, “Uli, Uli…” in recent weeks.
Colfax junior Ben Rooker is pulling similar double duty for the Falcons. A hard-working captain for the soccer team, Rooker has been tremendous on the gridiron.
Rooker is a perfect 27-for-27 on extra-point kicks for Colfax, which takes a 6-0 record into Friday’s homecoming game against Foothill.