A year ago, this one came down to the final, frantic seconds.
Oak Ridge High School went for the win on a two-point conversion, came up short and has seethed over that loss to rival Folsom ever since.
On Friday night in El Dorado Hills, with a ripe opportunity for redemption and a ton on the line, top-ranked Folsom looked the part of the best team in the Sac-Joaquin Section with a resounding 42-28 decision over the No. 2 Trojans in a battle of 9-0 clubs.
Oak Ridge led 7-0 then trailed 28-7 in a flash, and then it was 42-14 off a defensive touchdown before the Trojans made it respectable late. Folsom does this to even the best of teams by seizing on mismatches or mistakes.
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Folsom is riding a lot of momentum after winning its seventh successive league championship and sixth in a row in the formidable Sierra Foothill League.
The Bulldogs extended their SFL winning streak to 23 since joining the league in 2012 and their overall league streak to 34, dating to 2011. The streak against Oak Ridge is now 12 games, including twice in the 2013 season.
And more: Folsom has its fifth 10-0 regular season since 2012 and now targets its seventh section banner this decade.
The surprise here, outside anyone in Folsom colors, was the margin of victory.
Folsom had to replace a lot of graduated starters from a 12-2 team but hasn’t looked inexperienced.
Oak Ridge returned a wealth of starters, and for the only time this season, the Trojans were out of sorts in the first half, including two short first-half punts that led to Folsom touchdowns.
Kaiden Bennett, a first-year varsity starter at quarterback, continued his stellar season. The junior accounted for five touchdowns, including three scoring strikes to the Ngata brothers. Folsom didn’t allow Oak Ridge star quarterback Marco Baldacchino to dominate as he has much of this season with his arm and burst runs, though he did have touchdown passes of 21 and 62 yards to Austin Jarrard, who also had a 19-yard scoring catch from reserve Cooper Crick in the closing moments.
Bennett hit Joe Ngata for scoring strikes of 21 and 26 yards and Daniyel Ngata for a 14-yarder. Bennett also scored on runs of one and three yards.
But the touchdown that got the Folsom sideline most excited was delivered by a backup nose guard.
Caleb Freeland scooped up a fumble and rumbled 64 yards for a Bulldogs touchdown amid a full lineman convoy for a 42-14 lead.
“We’re a totally different team than we were last year,” Folsom coach Kris Richardson said this week. “We’re much improved, and we were really good last season. We’re more athletic, we’re better up front, we’re better on defense.
“Our guys have done everything we’ve asked. They’ve put in the work. We’re prepared. We study our opponents, and if we stay healthy, we can do some big things this season. And we’re battle tested.”
Tested with great passing marks.
When brackets are released Saturday, Folsom will lock up the No. 1 seed for the section Division I playoffs that start next week, and Oak Ridge likely will earn the No. 3 seed behind St. Mary’s of Stockton.
Folsom victories this season include:
▪ Coeur d’Alene, ranked fourth in Idaho, 56-33 after it was 56-8 at the half.
▪ Unbeaten Delta League champion Jesuit 55-9 when the Marauders were Bee-ranked third.
▪ Modesto Bee No. 1 Oakdale 45-29 on the road, a victory that has added meaning after Oakdale beat undefeated Central Catholic of Modesto 27-21 on Friday.
▪ No. 5 Granite Bay 35-14 and No. 7 Rocklin 46-3.
Folsom and Oak Ridge could meet again – at Sacramento State in the section finals.
“Folsom has been a tough hurdle for us to clear,” Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere said. “But this has definitely made us a stronger program. We are the one team that has been in the same league as Folsom during their incredible run, and there have been a lot of second-place league finishes for us in there over the last dozen or so years.”
Cavaliere added, “Folsom hasn’t been difficult to solve schematically. Beating Folsom is about winning the matchups, which has been difficult. They are very talented and do a good job of utilizing their talent. And they have playmakers, and they protect their quarterback incredibly well and make it difficult to disrupt tempo.”