Jake Browning whisks away football accolades like so many snowflakes off his coat. Sort of like the elements that pelted residents up Highway 50 on a blustery, frigid Friday.
The Folsom High School junior quarterback points to hislinemen, the sturdy guys in the trenches, and his dizzying array of skill players for what he deems “team awards.”
Time to log one more achievement and clear some space in a fast-filling trophy case for one of the powerhouse programs in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
In bitingly cold but dry conditions at Sacramento State, Browning continued his sizzling season on Saturday night, passing for 323 yards and five touchdowns, four to Troy Knox. Browning also ran for two scores to steer a 49-17 triumph of Oak Ridge for the Division I championship that carries a great deal more than regional bragging rights.
Already the state record holder for touchdown passes in a season, Browning hiked that total to 75. He also set a record with 5,416 passing yards. All this coming two days after he was named the Gatorade State Player of the Year.
“It’s my line and players,” Browning said. “Troy Knox runs routes in his sleep.”
Ranked No. 3 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 2 in Northern California by MaxPreps, Folsom will draw a familiar foe next week. The Bulldogs are expected to face state No. 1 De La Salle of Concord in next Saturday’s NorCal Open game at a venue to be determined today.
De La Salle is the one team that NorCal opponents can’t seem to solve as it has gone unbeaten against such competition since 1991, a stretch of 250 games. De La Salle has won the last 22 North Coast Section Division I titles, including Saturday with a 49-17 rout of California-San Ramon.
Folsom is 28-1 in the past two seasons, the best regional showing since Elk Grove went 27-1 with back-to-back D-I section titles in 1997 and ’98. That was in the pre-Bowl era. The lone loss for Folsom was to De La Salle in last season’s NorCal Open.
“They’re a great program,” Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson said. “I know we’ll give it everything we’ve got.”
The Bulldogs have won three section titles since 2010 and five overall. This marks the program’s second section title repeat, matching the 1989 and ’90 teams under coach Tom Doherty, who sat proudly in the press box in a decades-old Folsom coaching jacket, hugging and high-fiving old players from his teams throughout. He hired Richardson while serving as the Folsom athletic director, and Richardson last year elevated Troy Taylor to co-coach, making for a potent 1-2 coaching punch.
Taylor works with Browning and the offense, and Richardson supervises the offensive line, the unsung group headed by Cody Creason, Will Koch, Nick Bolling, Tommy Farrell and Jerod Nooner. Lou Baiz is the defensive coordinator whose unit stood tall against an Oak Ridge team that features balance and skill.
Two second-half sacks and swarming run defense kept Oak Ridge at arm’s length.
Oak Ridge (12-2) players said this week that the only way to stall Folsom is to “disrupt the system.” The Trojans rattled that system just slightly early when Drew Lackowski intercepted Browning in the corner of the end zone to end Folsom’s first drive. Lackowski had two interceptions of Browning in a 35-0 loss to Folsom in a Delta River League opener.
Browning did not turn it over again as he dazzled with precision throws, throws on the run and superb game management. He hit Knox, the all-time career receiver in Northern California, nine times for 150 yards.
Knox has eclipsed 1,000 yards in each of his three varsity seasons. And in a show of depth, Folsom overcame the loss of its only two-way starters – running back-linebacker Bailey Laolagi and lineman Sam Whitney. Both juniors were on crutches on the sideline after suffering knee injuries against Jesuit in the semifinals. Both hope to play against De La Salle.