This was old-school, throwback football, played on real grass with a chill cascading down the nearby foothills.
The Pioneer Valley League showdown between Sacramento Bee-ranked rivals with 7-0 records was a showcase of pride and grit at J. David Ramsey Stadium, surrounded by trees with the nearest stucco-heavy strip mall many miles away.
And in an era of spread formations with passes every down, Placer High School again unleashed its storied Wing-T, heavy on deception and fakes on handoffs and big on effort and achievement, against defensive-minded Bear River.
Owen Scott rushed for 61 yards and two touchdowns, and Jared Halbert scooted for 112 to propel the No. 10 Hillmen past the No. 12 Bruins 26-14, inching them closer to the program’s fourth successive PVL championship.
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It’s no wonder both teams came out so inspired. This game meant something, including an overflow crowd of fans of all ages, some sporting clanging bells. The snack bars had long lines, and students mingled on any available space on the dusty track.
6 Sacks by Bear River
“If you’re not excited and fired up for a game like this, then I don’t know what’s wrong with you,” Placer coach Joey Montoya said before kickoff. “Football is big for these schools.”
Football has been king of the hills in Auburn for decades, including the feel-good 1970s when the Hillmen won multiple championships as a state-ranked power. The coach was Bill Miller, Montoya’s grandfather. Montoya’s father, Joe Montoya, also coached the Hillmen for years.
Bear River opened in 1986, suffered some early lean times, then took off. The Bruins have produced 26 consecutive non-losing seasons, and as much as Friday’s loss hurt, history will be used as a guide.
Placer belted Bear River 28-0 last season, and Bear River never looked back, storming to a Sac-Joaquin Section Division V championship. The Bruins’ 12-game winning streak, the second-longest active streak in the section to Folsom’s 24-game run, ended Friday.
Bear River (7-1, 2-1) was inspired by standout running back/linebacker Kyle Uclaray leading the team onto the field, carrying a Bruins flag. He was in relative slow motion with a blown ACL, suffered in the season opener, but he insisted on being in uniform, as did several other Bear River players sidelined by injury.
“We’ll give Placer everything we’ve got,” Bear River co-coach Terry Logue said before kickoff.
He was right. Bear River played spirited defense, recording five first-half sacks and six total. But Placer kept with it, relying on the ground game that has overwhelmed opponents over the years.
If you’re not excited and fired up for a game like this, then I don’t know what’s wrong with you.
Placer coach Joey Montoya
Scott gave Placer (8-0, 3-0) a 7-0 lead with a three-yard scoring run in the first quarter. Waylen Cozad made it 13-0 in the second quarter on a seven-yard run but was knocked out of the game with a knee injury on the play.
Bear River charged back in the third quarter. Touchdowns runs of one yard by Beau Baggett and five yards by Dave Mastrella put the Bruins ahead 14-13 entering the fourth quarter. Quarterback Jason Voter set up both scores with deft passing.
Scott countered with a one-yard touchdown run for a 19-14 lead with 5:42 to go. Bear River fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Placer’s Derek Haney scored on an 11-yard run with 3:20 to play.
Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD