High School Sports

Folsom dominates St. Mary’s in Sac-Joaquin D-I semifinal

Folsom QB Kaiden Bennett talks to coach during practice at Folsom High School on Monday, August 13, 2018 in Folsom, Calif.
Folsom QB Kaiden Bennett talks to coach during practice at Folsom High School on Monday, August 13, 2018 in Folsom, Calif. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

For all of the Folsom Bulldogs success this season there’s been one glaring trouble spot – the inability of the offensive line to give themselves a catchy nickname.

But after Friday’s 52-7 win Friday night against No. 4 St. Mary’s in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinals at Prairie City Stadium, the No. 1 Bulldogs may have shored up that issue.

“Last year, we were the Hog Squad,” senior center Kaden Richardson said. “The defense is the ‘Trench Mob.’ But I don’t know. We don’t have anything else. We just call ourselves the O line.”

But then Richardson gave it some thought, and as quarterback Kaiden Bennett was being interviewed in the locker room after the game, Richardson came by and dropped a new name, one that will likely stick for the remainder of this title chase – The Brinks.

“As in Brinks trucks, because we protect the money!” Richardson said of the skill players such as Bennett, Joe and Daniyel Ngata and Elijhah Badger.

That got a laugh from Bennett, who was a standout Friday night, finishing 19-of-37 for 363 yards and five touchdown passes. He also had 44 yards rushing with a 1-yard keeper in the first quarter.

Joe Ngata had eight catches for 169 yards and a pair of TD catches while younger brother, Daniyel, added 47 yards and a TD through the air and 65 yards on the ground. Badger had two touchdown catches and a pair of interceptions.

The Brinks is an all-senior offensive line responsible for keeping Bennett upright and mobile and running downfield, freeing Ngata and the rest of the Bulldogs’ bevy of skill players for long gains and frequent touchdowns.

“They’re as much of our offensive production as Kaiden Bennett and Joe Ngata and Daniyel (Ngata) and Elijhah (Badger),” Bulldogs head coach Kris Richardson said.

Each of those four players scored at least once in the first half in a windy and rainy game that was expected to be much closer. Folsom remains one of the nation’s most prolific offenses with tackles Garrison Passmore and Chandon Pierre, guards Joe Wagner and David Ruiz and Richardson. Tommy Nunez is a senior that can plug in throughout the line, which Richardson said has been key.

“Those are six seniors who have a lot of experience,” Richardson said. “(Kaden) and (David) Ruiz are three-year varsity guys and have played a lot of football. Wagner was a starter for us last year. Garrison is a guy who made massive improvements both physically and mentally and has played great football. Chan Pierre is a two-way guy and one of our most athletic guys and Tommy gives us great depth because he can play all five positions.”

The line has pushed the Bulldogs to a ninth consecutive section division title game. They meet the winner between Oak Ridge and Monterey Trail, who play Saturday night. The Division I final is Saturday, Dec. 1 at Sacramento State.

“They’re a hard-working group and have bought into what we’re doing,” Richardson said. “We’re not the biggest, we have good size for a high school team, but we’re not a bunch of 6-foot-5, 290-pound guys. We’re 6-2 and 260, but we pass-protect well, which is always one of our strengths, and we’re going to screen.”

Those screens plays coming out of Folsom’s spread offense have been devastating. They allow the linemen to get down field to set up a wall. As the linemen pick off defenders one-by-one, the Ngata brothers, or Badger or CJ Hutton, et al, get up a head of speed and can pick which lane to run to daylight and often the end zone.

“They’ve had an incredible year and that’s obvious when you put up as many yards and points as we have this season,” Richardson said. “We have great skill guys, but you have to be able to protect your quarterback so he can get the ball out. They’ve done a great job.”

This is the fourth consecutive season Folsom and St. Mary’s have met in the D-I bracket. The schools met last year at Sac State for the divisional title game, with the Bulldogs handling the Rams, 50-21.

“I don’t know if there’s an advantage or disadvantage to that but the familiarity is nice,” Franks said before the blowout. “We have film to review of last year. We saw our guys playing their guys and doing some of the same things you might see tonight. You see some things you want to correct and some things we liked and might want to do again.”

But Franks may destroy the film of Friday’s contest. Folsom’s defense limited the Rams to just 133 yards in the first half and picked Noah Ray off twice.

St. Mary’s started the season 0-4 with blowout losses to Pittsburg (48-7) and Mater Dei (56-0). The Mater Dei loss was no real ding on the Rams. Mater Dei, at that point of the season in early September, was the No. 1 ranked team in the nation.

“We’re two really good football programs that consistently get deep into the playoffs,” Richardson said. “It’s who we expected to see at some point deep in the playoffs and here we are again.”

Smoky conditions delayed the game a week and “passing the ball may be a little dicey,” Franks said before the game.

“More because of the wind than the rain. A light rain on a turf field almost makes the field better because there’s less rug burn. You’re not going to slip. But the wind can make the ball do some funky things.”

Indeed. His quarterbacks found that out quickly. But Bennett seemed unbothered by the elements.

“As a spread team that throws the ball, some of our best games have been in the rain,” Richardson said. “We don’t worry about it. We feel like we can play well in all aspects… rain, shine, sleet, snow, wind, it doesn’t matter. We’ll run our offense and defense like we always do.”

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