Placer faces its biggest challenge

By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Placer High football coach Joey Montoya saw glimpses of a Lincoln juggernaut last season, warning those who would listen that coach Ken Lowe’s football team was a sleeping giant despite its poor win-loss record. The Zebras are wide awake now, and wreaking havoc on the competition this season. Led by a ferocious defense and a much-improved wing-T offense, Lincoln is 7-0. The Hillmen have steadily built their program into a winner. Last year, in Montoya’s second season, they broke through with a run to the section championship game. This season they’re even better. At 7-0, Placer can take control of the Pioneer Valley League title race with a victory at LeFebvre Stadium tonight. No one expects a lopsided game like last year, when Placer won 55-30 in Lincoln. Montoya’s been hard at work all week trying to figure out a way his smaller Placer squad can move the ball against a big, fast defense. “I think this is the best defense we’ve seen,” Montoya said. “We haven’t seen that kind of size since Rosemont. (Jacob)Tryon and (Juan) Castillo are the best (defensive) linemen we’ve seen to date.” Tryon, a 6-5, 300-pound rock in the middle of the Zebras’ defense, is tough to block. He’s got nine sacks and 58 tackles on the season. Defensive end Juan Castillo is a force as well. He moves like a linebacker, but he’s also powerful at 6-5, 255. The pressure up front has led to a staggering 29 turnovers for Lincoln — an average of more than four per game. Placer’s defense has been almost as impressive. Led by linebacker Josh Klem and a wide array of athletes around him, the Hillmen have forced 20 turnovers. “Both defenses have created a ton of turnovers,” Montoya said. “It’s going to be a game of who can execute at the right times and who can protect the football. Special teams will play a big part and field position is going to be important.” Lincoln’s offensive numbers are very similar to Placer’s. Both attacks are led by speedy tailbacks — Moses Stanley for the Zebras and Asher Gotzmer for the Hillmen. But balance is the trademark of both wing-T attacks. The Zebras have a couple of bruising fullbacks in Tim Bevins and Alex Cowden. Placer complements Gotzmer with Dalton Dyer and Josh Turney, who are both capable of piling up the yardage. Lincoln hasn’t needed to pass the ball much, but senior quarterback Alex Stewart is a capable playmaker. He averages 101 yards passing per game. He’s thrown six touchdown passes and five interceptions. Stewart also has two rushing TDs. Like Placer, Lincoln’s balance makes it tough to predict play calls. “They have a pattern they run and it makes you have to defend a lot of different things,” Montoya said. “We just prepare for them like we do every other offense,” Gotzmer added. “They run the wing-T like us, but they’ve got some wrinkles that they run.” Junior Collin Burnett has been outstanding in guiding Placer’s offense. He’s throwing for 111 yards per game and has seven touchdown passes with two interceptions. Both coaches have tremendous respect for the other’s program. While Montoya turned around a Placer team that hadn’t had a winning season since 2004, Lowe led Lincoln’s remarkable rebound from a dreadful 1-9 campaign in 2008. “He’s doing a great job there,” Montoya said. “We think this is going to be a team that year in and year out is fighting for one of those top spots (in the PVL).”