NCS football: Excitement builds for Piner’s postseason return

By ALLIE COLOSKY
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When the whistle blows tonight for the kickoff of Piner’s North Coast Section playoff game, it will be more than just the school’s football team on the field.

Piner’s first playoff game in a decade is a campus-wide event.

The Prospectors qualified for NCS for the first time since 2003 after finishing with a 5-5 record and earning a No. 9 seed in Division 4.

Piner will visit St. Patrick/St. Vincent, also 5-5, for a 7 p.m. kickoff in Vallejo.

“This is a huge thing for the entire school, not just the football team,” Piner coach John Antonio said. “Everyone there is so excited that we are having such a good year. They may not coach the team, but they all have a piece of this.”

In 2003, the No. 7 Prospectors upset No. 2 Cardinal Newman in the first round before falling to Casa Grande in the NCS semifinals.

Antonio said part of this season’s success is due to the fact that the offensive and defensive coaching staffs have not changed for the past three seasons.

“We’ve preached nothing but commitment and dedication,” Antonio said, “and I think the kids bought into it.”

Antonio said success was bound to happen as more students tried out for junior varsity and stuck with the football program.

Piner’s JV squad is 17-2-1 the past two seasons, and those players committing to the program have been key, he said.
Quarterback Noel Hernandez, a senior and three-year starter, has passed for 1,936 yards and 18 touchdowns this season.

“We were blessed three years ago with a sophomore quarterback who had all the tools it took to play football,” Antonio said. “He’s started 30 football games and having him there every day is huge.”

Hernandez says he can feel the support for a program that has been building the past three years.

“When you actually make it, there’s excitement and school spirit,” he said. “There’s a difference.”

Other seniors making a big impact on the program this year include linebacker Tyler Gabriel and running back Niko Formosa, who averages 5.8 yards a carry, according to MaxPreps.

“We’re just blessed to play another week,” Antonio said. “We haven’t done anything crazy and we don’t think this is the pinnacle of anything; it’s just another week.”

Still, the idea of a Piner playoff game appears somewhat foreign.

“I’m extremely nervous, but not in a way that’s afraid of (the opposition),” Gabriel said. “I’m just so excited because I’ve never played in a high school playoff game before.”

For players like Formosa, tonight’s game is a chance to represent the school and to make previous Prospector players proud of what the program has become.

“When you walk around our school, you just feel proud,” Formosa said.

Players have sacrificed lunch with friends and after-school activities to prepare for tonight’s game — and the players appear to be confident.

“I don’t want to just make it to the playoffs,” Hernandez said. “I want to keep advancing.”

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