A year ago, Eric Cavaliere sized up the Folsom Bulldogs after exhausting the list of possibilities to slow them down, and then exhaled.
The longtime Oak Ridge High School football coach was left to conclude that, “The gap between No. 1 and No. 2 has never been wider.”
Meaning: Top-ranked Folsom towered over the rest of the regional field a year ago, and for much of the decade, including over No. 2 Oak Ridge last fall. On Friday in El Dorado Hills, there will be a rematch between the rivals to kick off the Sierra Foothill League campaign.
Folsom is still star-studded and top-ranked, and has been by The Bee for all but one week since the start of the 2012 season. Oak Ridge has inched right back up to No. 2 this season with another formidable and fun group, continually motivated by the one hurdle it has not cleared in the last 13 seasons: Those Bulldogs located just down Highway 50.
Folsom rolled 62-6 a year ago for the program’s 13th consecutive win over Oak Ridge, en route to a repeat CIF State Division I-AA championship. Oak Ridge rebounded just fine. It advanced to the playoffs for the 20th time in 21 seasons, including 11 total under Cavaliere, one of the longest-tenured head coaches in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
Folsom is 2-1, with a 42-27 loss last week to national power De La Salle. Oak Ridge is 3-0, though only two games were played on the field. Bishop Manogue of Reno had to forfeit due to food poisoning leveling the team and coaching staff.
Folsom is riding a 42-game league winning streak dating back to its Delta League days in 2011, including 36 in a row in the SFL, the toughest league in the section. The Bulldogs have also won seven section and four CIF crowns this decade.
“Our game against Folsom doesn’t really seem any different than most years with Folsom – they are off-the-charts talented and will provide us with a huge challenge as always,” Cavaliere said, adding that first-year coach Paul Doherty and the Bulldogs are “still the team to beat in our section.”
Cavaliere added, “Last year the gap between them and us was as big as it has ever been. We are a better team this year and we have put together a good plan for Folsom. We expect to compete and challenge them for four quarters. Our players are ready. Our guys are fired up to play Folsom.”
Folsom presents nightmare matchups, Cavaliere said. How does one deal with national recruits Elijhah Badger at receiver and Daniyel Ngata at running back, for example? Not to mention the fast start for quarterback Jake Reithmeier, who has 10 touchdown passes, seven to Badger, and just one interception.
Still, Doherty wants more out of his bunch as a whole. Folsom showed championship resolve against De La Salle, rallying to make it a game after trailing 28-0 and 42-14.
“We are underperforming, given the talent level we have,” Doherty said. “That’s on us coaches to do a better job.”
Oak Ridge players are well aware Folsom has 11 players with Division I scholarship offers, just as Folsom players recognize the talent the Trojans offer. It starts with junior Justin Lamson, the next great Oak Ridge quarterback leader in a long list that includes current Notre Dame star Ian Book.
Cavaliere calls the duel-threat Lamson, “without question, the most competitive player I have coached at Oak Ridge.”
Said Doherty, “Super impressed with Lamson, and any time you have an elite player at that position in football, your team is going to be really good.”
He added, “Oak Ridge is incredible in a number of fronts. First of all, they’re incredibly well-coached, always prepared and always in a position to make plays. The culture over there is top, top-notch. That’s a reflection on Coach Cav.
“I think the ‘rivalry’ week theme is awesome, and Cav and I get along great, so we’re hoping for everything good high school football has to offer – top notch teams, great atmosphere, good sportsmanship, the band, and all things pageantry. Plus the snack bar is lights out!”
The coaches from both schools will be united in wearing black to honor former Oak Ridge freshman coach Jason Clark, who died unexpectedly in January, the theme being, “it’s more than just a game.”