Whitney is section champ; not selected for DII state bowl game

Graves rushes for nearly 300 yards
By: Russ Edmondson The Placer Herald
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The Sac-Joaquin Section, Division IV championship football game turned into a victory party for the Whitney High Wildcats Friday night at Folsom High as Whitney rolled 35-14 over the Placer Hillmen. The Wildcats, who finished the season 13-0, led 28-0 at the half and ended the game by kneeling down at the Hillmen 1-yard line. Whitney lost in the DIV title game to Oakdale, 34-27, a year ago. “It’s awesome,” said Whitney coach Mike Gimenez, who started the Whitney football program four years ago after being the head coach at Woodland prior to that. “You think you can learn and get better and get to this point. But last year you’re thinking ‘will we ever get back here?’ It’s kind of surreal.” Whitney senior running Zack Graves chewed up rushing yards just as he has done all season long. He carried 38 times for 298 yards and three touchdowns. He rushed 320 times for 2,779 yards and 39 touchdowns this season. Graves also caught a touchdown and threw for five. “That was devastating last year,” Graves said. “And that was our motivation. Not just to get back here but to get back here and win. I thought it would be tougher (to get so many yards on the ground) but our O-line was really confident. It was really fun. They (Placer) are a league rival and we beat them twice.” Whitney also beat Placer 34-12 in the Pioneer Valley League finale in mid-November. The Hillmen finished the season 8-5. “It’s unbelievable. It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Whitney senior quarterback Charlie Hetland said. “I’m speechless. This is a huge game and I was a little nervous but once we got that touchdown within two minutes I was confident. We had momentum.” Hetland was referring to Whitney’s four-play, 59-yard drive to open the game. It ended with a 30-yard touchdown run by Graves. Graves also had runs of 13 and eight yards on the drive. Placer responded by driving to Whitney’s 23-yard line on its opening drive but Whitney senior Ryan Schermerhorn blocked a 40-yard field-goal attempt and senior teammate Taylor Irwin returned it about 70 yards for a touchdown. Just like that, six minutes into the game, and the Wildcats led 14-0. Whitney forced a 3-and-out and scored another touchdown (21-yard run by Irwin) on the ensuing possession. The drive started at Whitney’s own 37. Placer went 3-and-out again and the following Whitney touchdown drive covered 83 yards. Graves’ three-yard touchdown run put the Wildcats up 28-0 with 6:52 remaining in the first half. The Wildcats reached into their bag of tricks when facing a fourth-and-nine from the Placer 33 on this scoring drive. Hetland completed a pass to Irwin who then tossed a lateral to Graves. Graves ran for the first-down yardage to keep the drive alive. Whitney drove to the Placer 1-yard-line with about one minute remaining in the first half but Graves turned the ball over with a fumble. Placer quarterback Matt Ross then fumbled the ball away to Whitney’s Nick Law and the half came to an end. Placer’s first score came with 4:24 remaining in the third quarter, as Ross threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Asher Gotzmer. Placer started the drive on Whitney’s 2-yard line after a Graves’ fumble (they lost nine yards before scoring the touchdown). Placer was trying to score again, with about 10 minutes left in the game, when Whitney’s Schermerhorn came up with another huge play. With Placer on the 8-yard line and throwing into the end zone, Schermerhorn stepped in front of a Placer receiver to make an interception. “I was playing zone and there were two of their guys in my area,” Schermerhorn said. “Then I saw who he was going to.” Placer did get its second touchdown later in the quarter when Ross scored on a one-yard run with 5:02 left. Fourteen seconds later, the game was basically over. Whitney’s Patrick Stole recovered Placer’s onside kick attempt at midfield and Graves’ ran for a 50-yard touchdown on the next play. The Wildcats then tried a pooch kick on the kickoff and Whitney’s Zach Ramos recovered the ball in Placer territory with 4:48 left. The celebration had begun on the Whitney sidelines. “Right now I’m speechless,” said Whitney senior receiver Jake Snyder, who caught one pass for 31 yards. “Last year, to get all the way there and then lose by a touchdown. But, even on that day, we were telling each other that we were going to get back here. We knew we would be good this year. But it was a new class coming in and we didn’t have our seniors from last year. And to go undefeated, 13-0, that’s just a product of our hard work.” Hetland completed 3-of-4 passes for 87 yards and didn’t turn the ball over. “They had a lot of momentum coming in and they are a good team that played hard,” said Hetland of the Hillmen. “And we just executed.” With this victory Whitney also become eligible to play in the CIF State Football Championship Bowl Game for DII. But it was St. Mary’s of Stockton that was selected to represent Northern California in Sunday’s vote by the 10 CIF section commissioners. St. Mary’s is 12-2 and defeated Pleasant Grove 36-14 in Saturday’s DI final for the Sac-Joaquin Section. Both Whitney and St. Mary’s are considered DII in terms of the state bowl games. St. Mary’s will play Cathedral Catholic of San Diego (13-0) at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Home Depot Center in Carson. Even before he knew the Wildcats would not be selected, Whitney’s Snyder wasn’t too worried about not getting to play in a state bowl game. “At the beginning of the year our goal was to win a section championship,” Snyder said. Mission accomplished.