When the high school football season started in the heat of August, two regional schools expected to make a championship run because that’s what top-tier programs do.
But the coaches from Folsom and Placer did not fully anticipate competing on the final weekend of a season that stretched into the chill of December.
The success of the Bulldogs and Hillmen highlighted the season in a region used to advancing teams to the CIF State Championship bowls as the Sac-Joaquin Section continues to flex its muscle and brand.
On Friday night, Folsom capped a 16-0 season with its lineup of 16 sophomores and juniors with a 49-42 victory over Helix of La Mesa at Sacramento State. It’s the second perfect campaign and CIF state title in four seasons for Folsom, which won a Division I title in 2014 and also a D-II championship in 2010.
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On Saturday night in Los Angeles, Placer’s quest to finish on top was denied with a last-play turnover, allowing Crenshaw to celebrate a wild 46-43 victory in Division IV-AA, as Isaiah Johnson tossed five touchdowns, including the game winner to Rayshawn Williams with 1:41 left.
The Hillmen embraced a season that included just four senior starters, and the team and seemingly half the town of Auburn took to the beaches Sunday, if not the sites and sounds of Disneyland.
Folsom and Placer each return a wealth of skill players, starting with quarterbacks. Kaiden Bennett will be back for Folsom, as will Mike Stuck for Placer.
A regional team has reached a state final every season since 2008. The winners were Grant in 2008, Folsom in 2010, 2014 and 2017, Granite Bay in 2012, and Del Oro and East Nicolaus in 2015.
Del Oro reached the finals three other times, and Rocklin reached a bowl in 2009.
With expectations high for 2018, Folsom and Placer expect to conclude seasons in something of a reverse format.
The upper-division bowls now shift to Cerritos College in Norwalk after the expiration of the three-year deal with Sac State, which is where Folsom would play, should it survive the season.
For balance and fairness, the lower-division games will be held at NorCal sites after being held in SoCal locations the last three years. Imagine Placer hosting a state championship at fabled LeFebvre Field in Auburn, home of natural grass (and natural mud, come winter time).
Folsom will likely enter next season as the preseason No. 1 or No. 2 team in Northern California by Cal-Hi Sports, MaxPreps and NorCalPreps. De La Salle has not lost to a NorCal team since 1991, so the Spartans have held onto that NorCal spot virtually every week since, except the the first 14 weeks of 2010, when Grant was the NorCal and state No. 1 by Cal-Hi Sports.
Grant’s run ended in the 2010 section final to Folsom, which will look to ramp up its schedule to battle-test the Bulldogs. Efforts to schedule De La Salle and other state powers are in the works.
“We’re going to be really good, and we’ll see what we can find,” Folsom coach Kris Richardson said.
Placer is not on the same state-recognized level as Folsom, but the Hillmen have been state recognized before, including finishing No. 1 in the final state Division II rankings in 1977 and 1980 by Cal-Hi Sports. And the beauty of high school football is that one does not have to be a state-ranked powerhouse to be recognized as a big-time program.
Some of the best home atmospheres come from the smaller schools, and Placer filled the stands Saturday at Crenshaw High.
Placer (13-2) will continue to play mostly a local schedule, which suits 11th-year coach Joey Montoya just fine.
The Hillmen still value regional rivalry games and league championships. Placer lost 43-16 on Sept. 1 at longtime rival Nevada Union. The schools will be realigned this fall into a Division III league, a step up from the Division IV- and V-heavy Pioneer Valley League that included Bear River and Colfax.
Mater Dei rolls – A night after going through practice drills and a walk-through at Capital Christian, Mater Dei looked right at home at Sac State in capping the 2017 state season with a resounding rout of De La Salle in the CIF State Open Division final.
USC commit J.T. Daniels passed for 233 yards and three touchdowns in blustering conditions, and he ran for two scores for the Monarchs of Santa Ana, who finished 15-0 and will be the top-ranked team in all the final prep rankings and polls.
It was Mater Dei’s first CIF state title and its first win in five tries against De La Salle, dating to the late 1990s. De La Salle is 7-5 in CIF bowls, a record for wins and appearances.
Attendance – The two-day attendance figures for the five games at Sac State was 15,956, and the biting cold Saturday with 49-mph winds certainly didn’t help, especially with the games being televised.