Sure, Folsom and Oak Ridge are some of the best football teams in the Sac-Joaquin Section. They play national powerhouses, they compete for section championships, and they are No. 1 and No. 2 in the SacBee rankings.
Absolutely none of that mattered Friday night.
As next-door neighbors, these teams are natural rivals. After Folsom eked out a 36-33 win Friday, the Bulldogs cheerleaders and fans briefly stormed the field to celebrate with their players before being shooed away by their own coaches and administrators. Bulldogs coach Paul Doherty has dealt with more important games, but he couldn’t stop grinning after beating the guys just east of Folsom.
“This was great for the community and great for the fans to have a game like this,” Doherty said. “The kids will remember this game for the rest of their lives. Of course, we want to win section and state, and those will be memorable games, but this is a game these guys will remember.”
There’s plenty to think about. Folsom trailed 33-21 with 3:34 left in the third quarter after Oak Ridge’s Dylan Warfield plowed in for a touchdown from 2 yards out. The Trojans were given plum field position when Folsom’s only punt attempt of the game went awry, the snap sailing over the punter’s head.
With the game sliding away, Folsom turned to running back Daniyel Ngata. The Division I recruit sat out the first half with a swollen left knee, but he immediately went for runs of 15, 3, 22, 6, and 6 yards before scoring from a yard out on a 1 minute, 41 second scoring drive. Ngata’s score trimmed Oak Ridge’s lead to 33-28.
His knee wrapped in a couple of different kinds of tape, Ngata said the plan was for him to take the night off Friday. But his team needed him, to the roaring approval of the Folsom rooting section.
“I feed off the energy,” Ngata said, “and I’m pretty sure we all do. We don’t get scared. We’ve been in a lot of big games before.”
Not like this one. At least, not with Oak Ridge, which has now lost 14 in a row to Folsom. When the teams met last year — again with Folsom No. 1 and Oak Ridge No. 2 — the Bulldogs won 62-6.
On Friday, Folsom needed a 6-yard touchdown pass on third down from Jake Reithmeier to Elijah Badger to take a 36-33 lead with 4:14 remaining in the game.
Reithmeier finished 20-for-32 — after going 11-for-20 in the first half — for 298 yards, with C.J. Hutton and Elijah Badger tallying big receiving nights. Oak Ridge quarterback Justin Lamson went 21-for-36 for 295 yards and two touchdowns.
Fitting of a rivalry game, it came down to the final play.
Trailing by three, the Trojans started at their own 20-yard line and took 14 plays to work down to the Folsom 9-yard line, where Oak Ridge faced third and 7. Folsom linebacker Dylan Richard charged around the left side of the line and sacked Lamson back at the 16-yard line. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Oak Ridge’s 32-yard field goal attempt soared just wide left. The large Oak Ridge crowd cheered loudly as it took the officials several seconds to decide whether the game-tying attempt was good.
Trojans coach Eric Cavaliere could only shake his head. His team’s getting better, but they’re still not quite there.
And yes, it’s pretty frustrating not being able to beat the kids from the next town over. Yet.
“There’s been several years we’ve been No. 2 or 3 in the entire section but the first thing anybody wants to know is ‘well, how come you can’t beat Folsom,’” Cavaliere said. “If we were out in Napa, we’d be kings of the land, as far as the eyes can see. But they’re right there. Also, it’s made us better. We’re a better program because they’re right there.”
After he greeted a former assistant who now teaches and coaches at Folsom, Cavaliere mentioned the “cross-pollination” that happens between the two schools. Ngata, who did not grow up in Folsom, smiled as he talked about going back and forth scoring touchdowns with Oak Ridge’s Avant Jacobs in youth football.
Folsom’s Doherty soaked it all in. It wasn’t a state championship. It wasn’t a game that will attract national attention. It’s better this way.
“I think rivalries are special in high school football,” Doherty said. “I think a lot of the mystique and prestige has gone away from rivalries because of not only the section playoffs but state playoffs, which is great, but unfortunately, it takes away from rivalries.”
For a night, anyway, Folsom and Oak Ridge showed classic rivalries still have a place in modern football.