Placer rallies to top Whitney

By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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ROCKLIN — Cameron Southward wasn’t sure how the football ended up floating in front if his face near midfield, but the Placer High senior knew what to do when he saw it. Southward’s wild catch on a desperate third down and 29 play sparked a furious rally by the Hillmen. Placer trailed 13-0 after one quarter, but responded with four straight touchdowns to beat nemesis Whitney 28-19 Friday night. With the victory, the Hillmen locked up second place in the Pioneer Valley League and secured their first home playoff game since 1982. The also avenged a pair of crushing losses to the Wildcats last season. Whitney beat Placer in the 2008 regular season finale and again in the Sac-Joaquin Section title game. “We wanted to get this monkey off our back,” Placer coach Joey Montoya said. “Whitney’s a great program and their coaches do a great job. This is a big win. We really wanted to get a home playoff game. It’s been a while.” Whitney looked like the team to beat until Collin Burnett’s pass unbelievably dropped into Southward’s hands for a 39-yard gain to set up Placer’s first score. “I think it was a cover-two and he was playing about 10 yards off me and I was like, ‘Oh no, this guy knows what’s coming,’” Southward said. “I went up for the ball and it was tipped and it was right in front of my face and I snatched it. I know I was lucky on that one.” The catch was the first in a series of big pass plays that vaulted Placer to its best regular season finish since 2000, when the Hillmen also finished 9-1. Asher Gotzmer scored three touchdowns, bringing his season total to 22. Burnett had a career night with 300 passing yards, completing 10 of 17 passes. He hit Gotzmer with a 63-yard TD pass to give Placer the lead for good midway through the second quarter. Placer slammed the door early in the third quarter. A Whitney fumble on fourth and inches gave the Hillmen a short field and Gotzmer scored to make it 21-13. After a three-and-out by the Wildcats, Gotzmer hauled in a 39-yard TD pass from Burnett for Placer’s final score. Placer’s defense looked vulnerable early, but after the first quarter the Hillmen gave up a total of just four first downs. “I think it took a while for us to warm up,” said senior Conner McKenzie, who blocked an extra-point kick in the first quarter. “We realized this was going to be a game and we just started coming together as a defense and playing a lot better.” Placer was stopped on the one-inch line on fourth down on its opening drive and Whitney struck quickly as Brendan McCue broke free for a 76-yard touchdown run. After a three-and-out by Placer, the Wildcats (7-3, 4-2) marched 80 yards for another touchdown on a 1-yard run by Jake Rodrigues. Whitney made things interesting with a 76-yard TD pass from Kyle Dilorenzo to McCue late in the third quarter. But a scoreless fourth quarter gave Placer a satisfying win. The Wildcats are headed to the playoffs as the PVL’s third place team, but they could be on the road in the first round. “We’ve had so many guys hurt that we’ve tried to get some guys healthy and get ready for Week 11,” Whitney coach Mike Gimenez said. “But this was a big game. We were at home and it was senior night so we wish we could have played a bit better. All in all, we did some good things.” Rodrigues, who had missed the previous three games with a sprained ankle, was hit hard by Brett Lenz in the third quarter and re-injured his ankle, putting his status in doubt for Friday’s playoff opener. In junior varsity play, Whitney beat Placer 33-14. The Hillmen finished the season 7-3 overall and 4-2 in the Pioneer Valley League.