Placer stuns Oakdale

By: Eric J. Gourley, Journal Sports Writer, Photos Michael Kirby, Auburn Journal
-A +A
OAKDALE — The front tooth chipped during a raucous celebration at midfield was worth it for Josh Turney. The Placer High Hillmen are moving on to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinals. Quarterback Matt Ross threw two touchdown passes to Asher Gotzmer and Placer recovered an onside kick in the same wild second quarter, stunning the defending section champion Oakdale Mustangs 27-14 in front of a capacity crowd at The Corral Friday night. Oakdale (8-3) had won eight consecutive games. With their first playoff win since a 33-27 first-round upset of Sonora in 2000, the Hillmen advanced to a second-round clash at Dixon Friday night. If Placer wins, the team will make its first section championship appearance since 1981. “A lot of people, even some of our own people in Auburn were saying we’d need a miracle,” said kicker Cameron Southward. “No, we don’t. We just believed. We had our great fans out here cheering us on. We’re still going.” To complement several booming punts, Southward orchestrated a flawless onside kick just seconds after Placer had tied the score at 7 with 9:22 left in the second quarter. Southward pounced on the ball less than two yards after it had traveled the required 10. It squirted away, but right into the hands of teammate Conner McKenzie. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Ross threw a 44-yard scoring strike to Gotzmer, giving the Hillmen (7-4) their first lead and seizing any momentum the Mustangs had after marching down the field on just five plays to open the game. “We figured we could catch them off-guard with it,” Placer head coach Joey Montoya said. “We saw something on film that we liked. Cameron kicked a beautiful ball.” Said the junior: “Honestly, that was my best onside kick ever.” Placer’s defense forced Oakdale to punt on the next possession. On the Mustangs’ following drive, Placer senior Mike Belanger sacked Oakdale quarterback Tanner Combs on fourth-and-12 from the Placer 38. “We were blitzing and made the quarterback scramble,” Belanger said. “Our nose guard wrapped him up and gave me a shot to hit him. It wasn’t simple by any means. They were a good team, but we came out and did our thing.” The Hillmen took over on downs and marched 56 yards on nine plays, extending their lead to 19-7 on Jake Lopez’s 4-yard touchdown scamper with 1:03 left in the first half. Lopez scored on another 4-yard run in the third quarter to answer Oakdale’s final touchdown. “This solidifies the fact that we should have been here,” Montoya said. “I’m so proud of our kids. I love these guys, I really do. We were able to put it all together tonight. These are the games when you want to put it all together. We just wanted to come and play to the best of our ability, and we did.” Placer had been left out of the playoffs after being forced to forfeit three victories earlier this season due to a Sac-Joaquin Section decision that the Hillmen used an ineligible transfer player. Placer lost an appeal to the California Interscholastic Federation, but a court injunction halted the Oakdale-Colfax first-round game Nov. 21. A hearing Monday overturned Placer's forfeits when an Oakland judge determined the CIF bylaws regarding transfer students were in violation of California state law. Ross had already mentally transitioned to the looming basketball season. “I thought the season was over,” the senior said. “I moved on to trying to get into basketball shape. It actually ended up helping though because I came back to football in better shape than I was before. The first couple of days coming back I was a little off throwing passes, but by Wednesday or Thursday it was back to normal.” Normal indeed. Ross completed 6 of 9 passes for 124 yards and the two touchdowns without an interception. Turney, a sophomore called up from Placer’s 9-1 junior varsity team, carried 15 times for 43 yards in his first varsity effort after being called up Monday. Even a teammate accidentally pushing the bars of his facemask into his front teeth couldn’t dampen his spirits. “It feels great,” Turney said. “I knew we were going to win. Everybody was positive. Everybody played their hardest.” Gotzmer carried 11 times for a team-high 94 yards and Lopez ran 11 times for 58 yards and two touchdowns. The onside kick wasn’t Placer’s only gutsy play. Oakdale capped a 74-yard drive to cut the deficit to 19-14 late in the third quarter on Tim House’s 1-yard dive. On a fourth-and-1 near midfield on Placer’s ensuing drive, Ross got a first down on a keeper and Lopez scored the icing touchdown seven plays later. “We’ve got to feed off this,” Montoya said. “Dixon is a very good football team and we’re going to have our hands full.”