Joe Davidson

How good is Folsom? Bulldogs on a historically great pace. ‘They’re just a nightmare’

Eric Cavaliere knows his regional football history.

He played for 200-win coach Tom Zunino at Vacaville High School in the 1980s. He has studied the local game ever since, the last 12 seasons as coach at Oak Ridge.

What Cavaliere witnessed and endured Friday night left him in something of a stupor of frustration — like tackling air — and admiration. Folsom devastated Oak Ridge in a meeting of No. 1 vs. No. 2 that was all No. 1.

The Bulldogs rolled 62-6, leading 55-6 at the half, in executing as great a performance on a big stage as we’ve seen in the last 30 years.

Second-ranked teams just don’t get shelled like that, unless they have encountered a different animal. The Bulldogs are that animal. They are in the midst of a historically great run, determined to add to their incomparable résumé this decade.


“They took it to us. We’re not a bad football team, and we may finish the season as the area’s No. 2-ranked team,” Cavaliere said after the carnage. “But the gap between the top team and the No. 2 team and everyone else is wider than I’ve ever seen it. I mean, wow.”

That’s a heavy statement. Give that some thought.

Folsom has won three CIF state championships since 2010 and has fielded two additional 14-1 teams. Folsom with Jake Browning (now Washington’s quarterback) and Jonah Williams (Alabama’s left tackle) in 2014 raged through a 16-0 season with 16 running clocks in the fourth quarter, the mercy rule to lessen the suffering.

A bigger gap than the shadow that team cast?

“That was a great Folsom team, and they had two or three big-time guys,” Cavaliere said. “Now they have half a dozen of them. Grant (in 1998) had Dante’ Stallworth and Onterrio Smith, but Folsom has five guys just like that now. They’re just a nightmare to match up with.”

Stallworth emerged as a first-round pick receiver and Smith a third-round pick running back, so that’s talent.

Cavaliere said trying to deal with Clemson-bound receiver Joe Ngata these days can make anyone feel “sick.” Double team him and you run the risk of getting taken to task by Elijhah Badger, another national recruit who is equal parts speed, hands, good routes and good teammate

Folsom 2014 also didn’t have a Daniyel Ngata, the junior running back who has offers from Alabama, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame and a flood of others for his ability to run fast, catch and downfield block with fury. He put on a juke, stutter-step move during a touchdown run against Oak Ridge that was Barry Sanders-esque as five Trojans tacklers lost closing-in angles in an instant.

Daniyel Ngata also caught a hook-and-lateral play for a score relayed by his brother from Kaiden Bennett, who accounted for seven touchdowns, six passing, on 19 of 22 for 386 yards. Joe Ngata even threw a touchdown, to Badger. How do you deal with this? It hardly seems fair. Teams might have a chance against Folsom if they could trot out 15 guys on defense, not 11.

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The only other area players who have looked as college-ready as the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Joe Ngata were Williams and Grant’s Shaq Thompson (later a first-round pick of Carolina).

The ill-informed on social media still bemoan that Folsom’s best talent is not genuine, as the Ngata brothers and Bennett grew up in Reno. Yes, but they all moved to Folsom before their freshman seasons, so they’re Bulldogs through and through.

Cordova in the 1970s and ‘80s was a draw for top players, including those from military families at Mather Air Force Base. The Lancers had national-recruit talent, including running back Reggie Young in 1977, for teams that set an area standard of dominance, but those outfits did not have near the player clout as Folsom now. That’s a theme backed also by Tom Doherty, an assistant coach at Cordova then who went on to become football coach and athletic director at Folsom.

He exited the Folsom coaching box at halftime on Friday, his eyes glassy, as if blinded by the blur of Folsom jet-red jerseys.

“Just amazing,” Doherty said.

Elk Grove’s 14-0 team in 1998 featured eventual Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie and running back Ric Cottengim, all Division I college players. Folsom has more firepower now.

What’s more, the Sierra Foothill League of this era is deeper and stronger than any league in regional history as Del Oro, Folsom and Granite Bay have combined for five state championships in seven state finals appearances since 2012.

Defeat aftermath

The best thing to happen to Folsom this season was falling 14-0 to De La Salle in an opener.

You learn in defeat. De La Salle unleashed its four- and five-star recruits on the Bulldogs’ offensive line to disrupt flow. That’s no longer an issue.

Bennett has found his groove, as has his line. Since the opener, Bennett has completed 61 of 74 passes for 1,325 yards and 21 touchdown with no interceptions. He throws long with touch and sets up in the pocket. He’s not a running quarterback. He’s a quarterback who can run.

Compare and compete

Folsom last week crushed state-ranked Chaminade in West Hills, 70-34, leading 56-14 when the starters exited.

Chaminade on Friday lost to national No. 1 Bosco 56-20. Chaminade coach Ed Croson to the Los Angeles Times on which team would win, “I’d say the home team wins, which means Folsom could beat Bosco on a given night. Bosco is at a different level than all but a few programs in America. The difference would be depth.”

A Folsom-Bosco showdown or a meeting between Folsom and Mater Dei, ranked second nationally, isn’t likely to happen in a state final. De La Salle has been the longstanding NorCal Open Division entry, and it is earned, since it has not lost to a NorCal team since 1991.

Unless De La Salle falters and does not win its 27th consecutive North Coast Section banner, Folsom will be in the Division I-AA field for the third time since 2014, provided it wins the Sac-Joaquin Section championship. That’s safe money there.

How Oak Ridge responds from Friday will be telling. Beatdowns like this either bond a team or break it. Folsom will be dropping the hammer on others this season, too.

“I have a lot of faith in our team,” Cavaliere said. “We have a really good team, and we’ll go back to work on Monday and learn from this.”

Folsom won’t let up, either. Sixteen starters from last season’s 16-0 machine aim to finish fast.

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