It wasn’t pretty, but this is a sport where style points don’t matter. Results do.
And even Folsom coach Kris Richardson said that in football, you have to win ugly sometimes.
The Bulldogs were not at their efficient, dominant, crisp best on Friday night at Prairie City Stadium in a game dulled by myriad penalties on both sides, but they showed enough and did enough to reach a unique milestone in derailing a team eager for a shot at redemption.
In beating Jesuit 27-14 in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal behind another big game by junior quarterback Kaiden Bennett, the Bulldogs handed the Marauders two of their setbacks this season and punched a ticket to their unofficial home-away-from-home.
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Folsom (13-0) is in a section championship for the eighth consecutive season, a remarkable feat considering how talent-laden this section is and the teams the Bulldogs face. They take on defending champion St. Mary’s of Stockton on Dec. 2 at Sacramento State. St. Mary’s ended Folsom’s string of four successive titles last season, and the Rams beat second-seeded Oak Ridge 38-31 in El Dorado Hills in the other semifinal on Friday.
No team in section history, spanning seven divisions and 45 years, has achieved this feat.
Not Central Catholic of Modesto, a small-school power with a record 19 banners. Not Del Oro, Escalon, Grant, Oak Ridge, St. Mary’s or any number of other programs that made their mark.
“Really hard to do,” said Richardson, the veteran Bulldogs coach whose team has gone 109-9 this decade. “We’re doing it against the best competition in the section, this run, especially deep in the playoffs. We’re battle tested, and it’s paid off.
“To get to eighth straight section finals, it’s not something we talk a lot about, but it’s something we’re proud of. And we’ve played in every section championship since Sac State starting hosting them in 2010. That’s pretty neat.”
Folsom has been so good, it has fans spoiled. Too many assumed the Bulldogs would coast past Jesuit again. Folsom rolled the Marauders 55-9 in Week 1.
The rematch was not a rout by any means. Jesuit (10-3) struck on the game’s second play when Hank Harvego found Evan Panson for a 62-yard touchdown. Jason Gallagher scored on a 1-yard plunge to open the fourth quarter to cap a 97-yard drive to pull the Marauders to within 20-14 after Bennett fumbled in an attempt to give his team a 27-7 lead.
Bennett hit CJ Hutton for a 15-yard touchdown to end the scoring. Bennett connected with Elijah Badger and Daniyel Ngata for touchdowns of 48 and 58 yards, respectively, and he had a 1-yard run. Bennett passed for 326 yards and ran for 112.
“People last week were saying, ‘Hey, we’ll see you at Sac State,’” Richardson said. “Wait a second. Jesuit’s really good, and they play hard. Nothing’s easy.’ It’d be one thing if we played them two weeks ago. We played them 10 weeks ago. That’s an eternity.”
Folsom has done all of this with a lot of youth. Ngata is a sophomore and his brother Joe is a big-play threat as a junior. The offensive line includes center Kaden Richardson, a junior and the son of the coach. The line is anchored by senior Noah Lunday, and the defense has been led by senior linebacker/defensive back Tanner Ward.
“We tell the kids that what we’ve already done here has happened,” Richardson said. “We challenge them: ‘What’s your part of this story? We’re still writing our story.’ The guys are showing up to practice, working hard. Sometimes, with high school kids, 12-0 means you’re feeling good, but we show up wanting to get better, knowing we need to get better, which is a sign of a great team.”
Jesuit coach Marlon Blanton said what Folsom has achieved is, “amazing. They’re so well coached, have great players and make plays. We all strive to be as good as Folsom.”
Said Josh Farr, who played multiple positions for the Marauders, “It’s crazy how good they’ve been. They’re the epitome of what you want to do and be.”