This was supposed to be a team that was a year away, a tad too young to win championships against senior-laden outfits eager to take them down.
So much for that line of thinking.
The Folsom Bulldogs continued their remarkable ascent on the football landscape, basking in another trophy at a field that suddenly feels like home.
Down 14-0 in a flash, the Bulldogs scored 28 unanswered points and withstood the remarkable skill and speed of Helix for a 49-42 victory over the Highlanders from La Mesa on Friday night to win the CIF State Division I-AA championship at Sacramento State.
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Twice a team in the 190-school Sac-Joaquin Section has gone 16-0, and both times it was Folsom, first in 2014 with record-setting quarterback Jake Browning and then this group, led by a host of juniors and sophomores.
“Most state championship teams are senior heavy, grizzled, but we’ve done it with some young stallions,” Folsom coach Kris Richardson said. “The great thing about this group is we never flinched.”
Players and coaches stormed the field after the Bulldogs withstood the late charge of UC Davis-bound quarterback Carson Baker, who willed his team to stay in it throughout.
Folsom celebrations have become common at Hornet Stadium this decade with six section titles – and now this. The Bulldogs are 111-9 this decade in the closest thing to complete and utter regional dominance since the famed Cordova Lancers led the nation in victories in the 1970s.
What Folsom has done is more remarkable because it has come during the CIF State bowl era. Folsom has three state titles now, the first in 2010, and another may come next season, given the wealth of returning talent, headed by brothers Joseph and Daniyel Ngata and Kaiden Bennett.
They go by the “Reno Express,” tied to their beloved roots in Nevada, which have been scrutinized on social media and in anonymous emails and letters to the Sac-Joaquin Section office. Skeptics insist Folsom’s title would not have happened with homegrown talent, that somehow the season was not noble and clean.
Richardson argued that “90 percent of our roster is from here.” The Ngatas and Bennett have been Folsom students since the start as incoming freshmen.
Bennett passed for 327 yards and four touchdowns, and the junior rushed for 147 yards on 14 carries and two scores to cap a prolific season of growth. Bennett has passed for 4,436 yards and 57 touchdowns and he rushed for 1,226 and 16 scores.
Junior receiver Joseph Ngata had five catches for 98 yards, including a dazzling 49-yard score to tie it at 14-14, more than holding his own against Helix’s Isaac Taylor-Stuart, rated one of the best cornerback recruits in the nation. Sophomore Daniyel Ngata had a touchdown run, three receptions and some key blocks.
It looked grim for Folsom on its first play, a 2-yard loss on the ground, and then it looked worse when Bennett was intercepted off a tipped pass inside the 10, setting up Helix’s first score. A moment later, Baker hit Isaiah Wooden for a 73-yard touchdown strike, and the Highlanders of the San Diego Section were rolling.
Then Folsom snowballed, which it has done a lot in recent years, scoring in bunches, owning the track meet. It’s a credit to the offensive line of Tucker Dunbar, Matt Frost, Noah Lunday, Kaden Richardson and Joe Wagner.
“We’re one of the greatest teams in section history, and we don’t want to lose site of that,” Richardson said. “We wanted to play relaxed and enjoy it. Your legacy is sealed, so let’s cap this baby off. Cut it loose, have fun, put on a show.”
Folsom is young, but it is bound by stellar senior leadership. This starts with strong safety Tanner Ward, who is undersize but competes with enormous effort. He had eight tackles. Junior linebacker Elijah Swonger had nine tackles, and junior cornerback Isaiah Barner and junior defensive tackle Tyler Hardeman combined for 16 stops. Hardeman had two sacks.
For a team that didn’t seem to tire all season, the Bulldogs were spent here, especially the coach.
“The guys did everything we’ve asked,” Richardson said, half out of breath. “Twelve months of work, 16-0, wow. Incredible senior class, a lot of great young players, a great coaching staff. We’re proud to be a Folsom Bulldog. We’re so proud of our community and our support.”
Folsom got a police escort out of town on its way to Sac State, and no one was in a rush to leave the place when it was over.