Kris Richardson takes none of this for granted, the challenge, the grind, the results.
Or the anxiety and elation.
Winning doesn’t get stale because winning is not as easy as the way Folsom High School so frequently dials it up, habitually racing through even the most formidable of teams.
Richardson basked in the joy of hoisting another Sac-Joaquin Section championship banner on Saturday afternoon, the longtime Bulldogs coach soaking in the moment and the icy moisture from the customary water-dump celebration as the sun set on a cool day.
Folsom started fast and finished strong as it rolled St. Mary’s of Stockton 50-21 for the Division I title, the program’s sixth banner this decade and eighth overall since 1989. The program has gone 30-2 in section playoff games this decade, including 23-1 since 2012.
The Bulldogs (14-0) led 41-7 at halftime, received stellar offensive-line play, more dazzling production from its skill players – Kaiden Bennett and Joe Ngata – and from scores of unsung contributors on defense to avenge the 2016 title-round loss to the Rams.
Bennett, a junior, completed 19 of 20 passes in the first half with four touchdowns to junior receiver Ngata. Bennett passed for 411 yards and four scores, giving him 3,811 yards and 48 touchdowns on the season. Ngata had eight catches for 223 yards. He has 1,544 receiving yards and 22 TD catches this season.
“All that hard work,” Ngata said with a satisfied grin, “paid off tremendously.”
St. Mary’s (11-3) had a plan of working the Folsom defense with powerhouse back Dusty Frampton. But he lasted just one play, going down after losing a yard and suffering a knee injury. It deflated the Rams, but they kept competing in the second half, scoring the final two touchdowns.
Frampton ravaged Folsom in last year’s championship game to the tune of 30 carries, 283 yards and three touchdowns, and entered Saturday with 1,648 yards and 24 scores.
“It affected us,” Rams coach Tony Franks said of not having his stellar senior, adding of the Bulldogs, “They did a great job, played extremely well and out-played us.”
Folsom was in a section championship game for a record eighth consecutive time, and it is 14-0 for the fifth time since 2012. Only the final scores make it look routine, but the ashen gray look of exhausted coaches says otherwise.
“Any time you get to a championship, it’s hard work because there are so many good teams, so it’s a big deal,” said Richardson, who last decade appreciated two-game winning streaks and finishing with a winning record. “It’s a huge undertaking. We appreciate all of it. Just so happy and proud of these guys, and we’re still so young.”
Folsom’s three senior starters on the offensive line – Parker Dunbar, Matt Frost and Noah Lunday – are key in allowing the Bulldogs to zip downfield. They also start three seniors on defense – lineman Justin Viega, cornerback Richard Cornelius and safety Tanner Ward, the heart and soul of the unit, the team’s leading tackler and a 4.1 student.
“It always feels good to win, and we have two games left,” Ward said, alluding to a CIF Northern California Regional game next weekend at a home site against a team to be announced Sunday and, with a victory, a CIF State title game at Sac State.
“This hasn’t hit us yet – winning this,” Ward added. “But it will. We’ll just keep on working.”
Folsom’s array of playmakers battered the Rams. Daniyel Ngata rushed for 91 yards and opened the scoring with a 3-yard touchdown. Parker Clayton had nine catches for 101 yards, and the leading tacklers were Ward (13), Justin Viega (seven), CJ Hutton (five) and Cruz Lara (five). Folsom had 28 first downs (St. Mary’s had 18) and had 553 yards of offense, including scoring on all five of its red-zone chances.
“It takes all of us to make it work,” Richardson said. “And we’re not done.”