Wildcats advance to DIV title game

Whitney forces six turnovers, tops Sierra 51-28
By: Russ Edmondson The Placer Herald
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Whitney High’s football team has advanced to the Sac-Joaquin Section, Division IV championship game for the second consecutive season, topping visiting Sierra of Manteca 51-28 Friday night. The Wildcats, who were defeated by Oakdale 34-27 in last year’s finals, will play Placer next Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Folsom High. Whitney and Placer are both from the Pioneer Valley League and the Wildcats topped the Hillmen 34-12 in the league finale on Nov. 14. The Hillmen beat Oakdale 27-14 in the first round of the playoffs and topped Dixon 24-21 Friday. Both victories came on the road. “It doesn’t really matter (who you play), you get to this point and you will play a good opponent,” Whitney coach Mike Gimenez said. “The biggest thing is remembering getting there last year and how it felt walking off that field.” As far as Placer getting a court ruling that allowed them to get into the playoffs, Gimenez considers that a non issue. “It has nothing to do with us – that’s their own deal,” he said. “The focus should be on football.” Whitney (12-0) forced Sierra (9-3) to make six turnovers Friday and the Wildcats jumped out to a 28-0 lead. The lead was 28-7 at the half and it got no closer than 31-14 in the second half. Whitney senior running back Zack Graves was up to his usual tricks against the Timberwolves, rushing 31 times for 257 yards and three touchdowns. He had a 45-yard touchdown run to put his team up 6-0 in the first quarter and a three-yard run to make it 28-0 with 3:13 left in the first half. His other touchdown run, for 11 yards, put Whitney up 45-14 early in the fourth quarter. Graves has now rushed 282 times for 2,473 yards and 36 touchdowns this season. He has also thrown five touchdowns and caught one. “It gets harder every week,” said Gimenez about Graves’ massive rushing total each game. “Our O-line is very good and some other guys are stepping up. Taylor Irwin and Reese Major and (Jordan) Little blocking and Jake Snyder (all four of them receivers). A lot of other guys are making plays.” Whitney senior quarterback Charlie Hetland threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Major to put Whitney up 21-0 and he passed to Snyder for a 29-yard score to make it 51-21 with 5:21 left in the game. Irwin scored on a nine-yard run in the third quarter to make it 38-14 and senior defensive tackle Eric Travers returned a fumble by Sierra quarterback Ryan Flores about 70 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Travers’ score and a 2-point conversion run by Graves made it 14-0. “I was just thinking – get in the end zone,” said Travers about his long journey down the field. Whitney’s other points came on a 27-yard field goal by senior Nick Law in the third quarter. Law also blocked a 43-yard field-goal attempt by Sierra in the second quarter and was very active on defense (linebacker) throughout the night. Hetland wound up 4-of-14 passing for 61 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions while his leading receiver was Snyder (three catches for 34 yards). Irwin ran eight times for 56 yards in the victory. Sierra’s Flores completed 18-of-33 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns. But he also threw four interceptions and lost the fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Travers. Flores rushed 19 times for 125 yards. Flores threw two touchdowns to Nick Wendell and one to Anthony Hall. The other touchdown for the Timberwolves came on a run by Owen Osakwe with just 36 seconds remaining in the game. “They are a really good team and (Flores) was probably the best (quarterback) we’ve seen all year as far as running and throwing,” Gimenez said. “I was impressed by them.” Whitney’s Dominic Pasquale, Zach Ramos, Ryan Sowma and Brandon Sherriff all intercepted Flores. Ramos’ interception, which came in the first quarter, bounced off the foot of teammate Chad Thompson before it settled into the arms of Ramos. The sixth Sierra turnover, a fumble on a kickoff, was recovered by Ramos in the second quarter. “We haven’t had 50 points yet so it’s pretty exciting,” said Ramos, a senior linebacker. “Personally I feel confident (about next Friday). We’ve come a long way as a team and we remember how heartbroken our seniors were last year. “We’re excited and ready to get back into it (with Placer). We’re just ready to get after it everyday in practice.” Travers can’t wait until next Friday. “We beat them once and we’ll play hard,” he said. “It’s going to be a big game and they will be motivated with all the stuff going on.”