A year ago, Sacramento High School turned the regional football scene upside down.
The upstart Dragons upset top-ranked Folsom 33-29 at Prairie City Stadium.
The giddy Dragons celebrated their good fortune and resolve on Folsom’s blue turf, rallying from a 14-0 deficit and turning the game on defensive touchdowns. They scored 32 unanswered points, and then held on. The effort was historic as Sacramento halted Folsom’s state-leading 48-game regular-season winning streak and its regional record 52-game streak against Sac-Joaquin Section competition. Folsom had been Bee No. 1 for 64 football weeks, and Sacramento eventually rose to No. 1 for the first time since the 1960s.
The rematch is Friday night at Hughes Stadium. Sacramento plays its home games on campus but went with the Sacramento City College venue for this contest to capture a slice of Friday night fun under the lights.
Folsom is back at No. 1, and the Dragons are No. 7 and eager to show that last year was no fluke.
Eighteen starters are back for Sacramento under new coach Joe McCray who is a familiar face on the Oak Park campus. He previously served as the Dragons’ freshman and junior varsity head coach and as defensive coordinator last season under coach Justin Reber, now coaching at El Dorado.
Among the returners to the Dragons’ defense are linebackers E.J. Larry and Anthony Bradley. Larry returned an interception 88 yards for a score at Folsom last season, and Bradley one 24 yards to the end zone (Bradley also caught a touchdown pass).
Jaime Cousey had three of his team’s five sacks against Folsom. Payton Hunter, a 4.0 student, is also a key returner at linebacker.
They’re all eager for the rematch, McCray said. Tariq Hollandsworth ran for 268 yards against Folsom last season but has graduated.
“The potential for us to be great is enormous,” McCray said. “We’ve got a great group of guys, a ton of returners, and they’re hyped for this game to show how good they are.
“Both teams are filled with athletes and playmakers. It should be a great show.”
Folsom coach Kris Richardson agrees, saying of the Dragons, “That’s an athletically gifted, really good football team. They beat us. We’re the underdogs. We’ve got to redeem ourselves, and we know they’ll play with a chip on their shoulder, as well they should. They’ve got some swagger. We know we have to play better than we did last year.”
Derek Shelton has passed for 613 yards and six touchdowns for Sacramento (2-0), which had a bye week after opening with a 47-21 win over Mitty of San Jose in which Shelton hit Bradley for 225 yards and four touchdowns.
Kaiden Bennett has passed for 799 yards and 13 touchdowns for Folsom (3-0), which has beaten then-No. 2 Jesuit and Modesto Bee No. 1 Oakdale. Brandon Rupchock has scored four rushing touchdowns, and Joe Ngata has three touchdown catches. All three players faced Sacramento last season.
Folsom recovered from the Sac High defeat to reach a section title game for the seventh consecutive season, falling to St. Mary’s of Stockton after winning four successive championships.
Sacramento bowed out in the rain, wind and mud at home in the second round of the Division II playoffs, falling to Inderkum 35-33 after trailing by 26, a setback that inspires the returning players.
“They remember,” McCray said.