Placer tackles final test

Hillmen embrace the underdog role, plot to slow Whitney star
By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
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The Placer Hillmen don’t mind being the underdog one last time. Shattering speculation and puncturing predictions of their doubters through two courageous rounds of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs, perhaps it’s actually the prime position for the Hillmen as they battle Whitney in tonight’s section title game at Folsom High. “No one expects us to win,” second-year head coach Joey Montoya said. “We’ve heard a lot of people saying how Whitney’s going to dominate us. We like being in that underdog role. We’re just a measly little third seed once again playing a first seed.” The Hillmen dispatched defending section champion Oakdale in the first round before holding off Dixon, the top seed from the Capital Valley Conference, a week ago. Tonight figures to be another defensive affair. The undefeated Wildcats have allowed fewer than 12 points per game, on average, and held opponents to single digits five times. Placer’s defense has improved throughout the playoffs, surrendering only 59 rushing yards on 33 carries in its 24-21 semifinal victory over Dixon — one week after stymieing Oakdale’s stellar running backs in a 27-14 opening-round win. “We’re feeling free,” said senior defensive tackle Ken Tackitt. “We’re feeling great. We know Whitney’s a good team but we can stop them. We whole-heartedly believe that.” Stopping the Wildcats boils down to stopping Zack Graves, the speedy running back who leads the section with 2,481 rushing yards. “He’s a great back,” said senior middle linebacker Seth Parrish, who was named to the all-Pioneer Valley League first team last month. “He’s very elusive and his line is pretty good at making holes. Some backs can pick and choose their holes, and he’s really good at that.” Graves ran 35 times for 215 yards in Whitney’s 34-12 win over Placer on Nov. 14, a game in which the Hillmen held him in check for much of the first half. “He’s going to be tough to stop,” Montoya said. “The key is to contain him, to not give up the big play. He does a great job of reading the holes so our kids have really got to stick to their assignments.” When Whitney beat Placer last month, starting center Eric Milka was sidelined with a broken hand and running back Jake Lopez was nursing a sore ankle. The Hillmen also hadn’t moved sophomore running back Josh Turney up from the junior varsity team. Turney proved to be an invaluable addition in Placer’s win at Oakdale. “Josh being on the field helps get (Jon) Slane and Parrish off the field, which is huge because it keeps them fresh,” Montoya said. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.