Placer Hillmen face Calaveras Redskins in high school football playoff

Plus: “A Tale of Two Towns” trivia comparison of schools. Also: Fans’ guide to going to the game
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A Gold Rush town. Highway 49 runs through it. The county seat. A winning football team determined to drive deeper into the playoffs. In a game of 20 Questions, many of the answers could fit both Auburn and San Andreas. In the game of football, Auburn’s Placer High School Hillmen will take on San Andreas’ Calaveras High School Redskins in a playoff clash Friday between two teams from communities with much in common both on and off the football field. Like Auburn’s lone high school team, Calaveras has never been what could be considered an NCAA Division 1 feeder school. But it has a long history of champion football teams built on grit and determination. Located in the foothill country of Calaveras County, about a 70-mile drive south from Auburn, the school can claim gridiron championships stretching back to the 1930s. CAR CRASH AID Redskins Head Coach Jason Weatherby was a linebacker with the team in the 1980s. Like Placer Head Coach Joey Montoya, he’s coaching where he knows the community culture well because he has lived it. Last year, four people died in a car accident, including two Calaveras High School students. Within one-and-a-half weeks, the community had organized a spaghetti dinner and raised $30,000 to help with funeral costs and other expenses, Weatherby said. “It’s amazing the people who came out of the woodwork to help,” Weatherby said. “It’s part of why I live here – it’s where everybody knows your name.” In Auburn, a wildland fire in late August destroyed 63 houses and three businesses. Placer High students and staff were among the first to organize a fund-raiser, joining others in the community who held benefits, donated clothing and furniture, and contributed cash to help get fire victims back on their feet. That community spirit has also aided school athletics over the years, with businesses like 54-year-old Roper’s Jewelers donating for raffles and other fund-raisers. Harvey Roper, a 1974 Placer High graduate, said that it’s been a pleasure this year to see the team regaining some of the championship form it had during the late 1970s and early 1980s. “There’s a lot of community pride in that team now,” Roper said. In San Andreas, supermarket and hardware store Treat’s has been a part of the community since 1952. John Lavaroni, a member of the family that owns the store, played on the Redskins football team in the late 1960s, and has kept in close touch with his school in the stands during home games. Over the years, Lavaroni has watched epic football battles with arch-rival Bret Harte and likes what he has seen on the field this year. “We have a good nucleus of good kids,” Lavaroni said. “They’re hard workers and they’re playing their hearts out.” RALLYING CRIES When Placer players take the field, they’re going with the saying “Leave No Doubt” etched in their psyches, just as its printed on their practice jerseys. It’s been the motto for this year’s team since summer practices. When the fourth quarter rolls around Friday, the Redskins will be yelling “Four” and raising four fingers in the air – as will the Redskins cheerleaders and many of the teams followers who have made the hour-and-a-half drive to Auburn. The four fingers in the air mean players are going to keep playing that fourth quarter as hard as they can. “It pulls out a little more out of them, to focus on leaving it all out on the field,” Weatherby said. Weatherby describes this year’s over-achieving team as one that may not be the most talented or gifted San Andreas has seen but one that has a lot of heart and plays tough. Last week, the seventh-seeded Redskins knocked off the No. 2-seeded Rams 18-14. This week, it’s on the field against No. 3 Placer. Montoya, whose wing-T offense can elevate teams with a moderate talent pool to the next level, also portrays his team in the same light – a hard-working team with heart. He points out that Greg Denham, now quarterbacking the UC Davis football team, was the last Placer Hillman to make a Division 1 team. “We’ve got great kids and many are ready to play at the next level – not in Division 1, but somewhere in the college ranks,” Montoya said. MIRROR IMAGE In some ways, San Andreas and its high school could be seen as a mirror image of Auburn – perhaps 30 or 40 years ago. Its current population is about 4,000 while Auburn’s has grown to nearly 13,000 within city limits. Students are bused to the school from within a 45-mile radius. The stretch of Highway 49 that travels through San Andreas is built up with houses and independent businesses – not the malls , auto dealerships and other commercial buildings that have sprouted over the past three decades in Auburn. And this year, the two towns have the buzz of playoff excitement rippling through their respective communities. Mark Campbell, Calaveras Unified School District superintendent, said that excitement is something that pulls people together. Campbell was a linebacker beside Weatherby on some excellent Redskins teams in the early 1980s. In the past few years, he’s seen voters in the district approve a $13 million bond that helped rebuild the Calaveras High School stadium and install artificial turf. Still to come is completion of an performing arts center. “To me, the school is the hub of the community,” Campbell said. “If we play a game at home, we pack the stadium. And it’s the only place in this county where a representation of all of the community comes together.” -------------------------- Tale of Two Towns: Placer High School -Founded: 1897 -Changing colors: Originally olive and orange to reflect local crops. Now green and gold -Varsity record this year: 10-1 -Famed ex-wrestler: Gary Anderson, who played guard at Stanford and with the New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins -Placer’s political star: Former student Ben Nighthorse Campbell served as U.S. senator from Colorado. Nighthorse Campbell was captain of the 1964 Olympic judo team -It is written: “Pain is temporary. Pride is forever.” Written on the exterior gym wall that players pass by on their way to the stadium -School population: 1,350 -Stadium named after: Ralph LeFebvre, a 1923 Placer graduate who initially worked as the school janitor. He later coached outstanding track and basketball programs at the school after earning his teaching degree. -Athletic rivalries: Colfax, Lincoln -Nearby school hangout: Taco Tree Calaveras High School -Founded: 1905 -Changing colors: For many years, the San Andreas school’s teams wore bright red and yellow-gold. In recent years, the athletic department has switched to cardinal red and Vegas gold -Varsity record this year: 7-4 -Famed ex-wrestler: Jake Shields, pro mixed martial arts fighter, current Strikeforce middleweight title holder -Calaveras’ political star: Recently elected 10th District U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, who previously served as state lieutenant governor. Garamendi played football while attending UC Berkeley -It is written: “We were free until we stopped fighting, now no one has freedom.” Words under a statue of Chief Tawonka in the school’s office School population: 1,030 -Stadium named after: Frank Meyer Field was dedicated in 1955 in honor of Frank Meyer, who served 32 years as chairman of the Calaveras High School board -Athletic rivalries: Bret Harte, Jackson -Nearby school hangout: Pizza Factory -------------------------------------- Placer Hillmen vs. Calaveras Redskins -What: Second-round playoff game. Second home playoff game for Placer in 29 years. -Where: Placer High School’s LeFebvre Stadium Game time: 7 p.m. Friday -Full coverage: Story and photos posted at no later than midnight -Radio: KAHI 950 AM and streaming live on the Web for play-by-play coverage -Ticket prices: Adults $9 and students $5 with school ID. Elementary students are $5. Senior citizens are $5. Playoff ticket prices set by the California Interscholastic Federation Sac-Joaquin Section. -Gametime weather: Partly cloudy and cold. Overnight temperatures could go as low as 33 degrees. No rain predicted, although chance of showers earlier in day -Noise limits: All whistles, airhorns and other air-powered or mechanically powered devices prohibited. - Gus Thomson