Joe Davidson

Why old-school Pioneer Valley League football teams are headed for big things

Placer High School football coach Joey Montoya seeks a sixth successive PVL championship for the Hillmen.
Placer High School football coach Joey Montoya seeks a sixth successive PVL championship for the Hillmen.

The Pioneer Valley League stands as one of the power conferences within the 190-school Sac-Joaquin Section: deep, talented and well represented in the postseason for Divisions III, IV and V.

And it’s shaping up to be another banner season for the football teams nestled within Placer County and northern Sacramento.

“Great league,” said Placer coach Joey Montoya, whose program seeks its sixth successive PVL championship. “I can see us and Center going deep in the Division IV playoffs again, and Colfax and Bear River doing so in Division V and Lincoln in D-III. We made the section finals last season and so did Colfax, and we all push each other. The league is definitely up this season.”

No. 19 Bear River and No. 20 Colfax are 5-0 entering Friday PVL openers. Placer (4-1) and Lincoln (4-1), on the bubble of The Bee’s rankings, host Colfax and Bear River, respectively.

Center (3-2) and Foothill (1-4) are longtime neighborhood rivals that expect to be in the hunt.

The PVL is old-school in a literal sense. Placer opened in 1897 and Lincoln in 1907. Colfax opened in 1959 and Foothill six years later, with Center and Bear River arriving in the ’80s. The teams embrace old-school methods of preparation and play.

Placer, Lincoln, Colfax and Bear River hail from one-school towns, and each of them, except Lincoln, embrace grass home fields.

“Love the real grass,” Montoya said. “It’s been a friend to us over the years. We’ve played some extremely fast Center teams when it happens to be raining. We’re thankful for that grass.”

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Coaching stability has also been a factor for the PVL staying power. Tony Martello is in his 21st season at Colfax, his alma mater. He has won 195 games, three section titles in seven title-game appearances, 12 league titles and has produced 17 playoff teams. Montoya is in his 11th season at his alma mater, having guided the Hillmen to nine consecutive playoff appearances, including a 12-2 team in 2009, an 11-1 team in 2012 and an 12-1 team in 2015. Montoya’s grandfather, Bill Miller led Placer to five section titles from 1975-81 with co-coach Tom Johnson. The Hillmen won their first league crown in 1903.

Terry Logue has been coaching at Bear River since 1988, including the last 13 seasons with co-coach and old friend Scott Savoie. Bear River had its string of 28 consecutive nonlosing seasons halted last season amid a rash of injuries. Bear River won the 2014 D-V section championship over Colfax for the program’s second banner in five title-game appearances.

Bear River and Colfax continue to excel despite declining enrollment in recent years.

Digol J’Beily is in his 15th season at Center, his alma mater, with six successive playoff teams.

Chris Bean is in his fourth season at Lincoln, seeking the program’s fourth consecutive playoff berth. The Zebras went 11-1 in 2009 under coach Ken Lowe.

Bean coached at Bear River for 14 seasons, winning multiple league titles as the junior varsity coach. A group of vocal parents were so distraught at the idea of losing Bean to a rival program that they lobbied hard to have him replace Logue and Savoie, who responded with that section title in 2014.

Anthony Eustace is the fourth coach since 2011 for Foothill, which has had three 1-9 seasons since 2012 and last fielded a winner in 2009 (under coach Allen Berg). The Mustangs last reached the playoffs in 2007 and last won a playoff game in 2006 (under famed coach Frank Negri, the winningest coach in program history).

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD