Santa Claus stopped by for a visit at Prairie City Stadium on Friday night, parading through the stands, shaking hands, high fiving all comers, booming of good cheer.
After catching a glimpse of Kaiden Bennett and brothers Joe and Daniyel Ngata electrify on a biting cold night for Folsom High School football, the burly, bearded fellow in the red got up, nodded and mouthed, “not bad.”
No, sir. Not bad at all.
With the Bulldogs’ Big Three doing what they do – passing, running, catching, scoring – Folsom outlasted Central of Fresno, the top team from the Central Section, 54-35 to win the CIF Northern California Regional Division I-AA championship.
Folsom is 15-0 for the second time since 2014, and that Jake Browning-led juggernaut capped the season with a state championship. This group, living its own legacy, can duplicate the feat on Dec. 15 at Sacramento State against the Southern California Division I-AA Regional champion Helix of La Mesa.
Most impressive about Bennett and the Ngatas is their youth. None is a senior, but each performs beyond his years. Bennett passed for 312 yards and four touchdowns, including strikes of nine, 51 and seven yards to Joe Ngata, a certifiable load at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds with national recruiting interest. Bennett also had a 9-yard scoring toss to Elijah Badger and had an 11-yard touchdown run.
Bennett has passed for 4,114 yards and 53 touchdowns. He has rushed for 1,113 yards and 14 scores.
Ngata’s younger brother Daniyel rushed for 126 yards, including TDs of two and 50 yards. He also had 137 receiving yards. Joe Ngata finished with 147 receiving yards.
And it took every bit of the three to withstand the charge of the Grizzlies of Fresno, fresh off their first section championship in the 87-year history of the school.
Central was big, fast and physical, and big on the big play, but ultimately stalled enough by a tenacious if not stretched defense. Folsom had eight sacks, two by Tanner Ward, and the Bulldogs stopped Central three times on fourth down, two of those stops leading to touchdowns.
Fittingly, or oddly enough, Folsom didn’t seal it until CJ Hutton scooped up a fumble and raced down the Central sideline 62 yards for a touchdown for the final points with 2:51 left. This came a moment after Bennett hit Joe Ngata for a 7-yard touchdown, the second time of the night Ngata simply outmuscled tight coverage by latching onto the ball.
Dual-threat quarterback Trent Tompkins had some great moments for Central, which lost 45-30 to nationally renown De La Salle earlier this season. Tompkins hit Jacob Torrez for touchdowns of 29, 15 and 72 yards as the Grizzlies flexed their considerable burst.
“We’ve got some incredible skill players, and it’s up to us to get them the ball,” Folsom coach Kris Richardson said this week. “When we do that, we can snowball on teams.”
Folsom has won six Sac-Joaquin Section championships this decade and was in its fourth NorCal title game since 2012. In 2015, the Bulldogs lost to Bellarmine of San Jose 42-35 in the NorCal Division I-AA final, snapping a state-leading 30-game winning streak and ending their 43-game home winning streak.
Folsom is 32-3 at home this decade. Sac State has been good to the Bulldogs as well. Folsom has won six times at Hornet Stadium in section finals and in the 2014 NorCal championship over Grant.