When it was over, players raced to find coaches, family, friends, each other late Friday night at Cerritos College.
They embraced, cried, exhaled, then hugged and cried some more. It took every bit of every ounce of effort, but Folsom High School capped a season of great expectations and a remarkable two-year run in a decade of dominance with flair.
Kaiden Bennett found C.J. Hutton for a 17-yard touchdown pass in overtime, then a tying touchdown catch attempt was bobbled and dropped, allowing the Bulldogs to survive Cathedral Catholic of San Diego 21-14 in a thrilling CIF State Division 1-AA championship game.
Folsom (14-1) repeated as state champion and now has to find room in a bloated trophy case to add another prize to go with the other three CIF titles since 2010. Also in that treasure chest are seven Sac-Joaquin Section banners this decade, one that has seen the Bulldogs go 127-10.
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Folsom went 16-0 last year and returned 16 starters, but the season started with a 14-0 loss to national powerhouse De La Salle in Concord. On Friday, it was scoreless at halftime as Folsom made drives but came up empty, thanks in large part to a stellar defense and ground-control effort by Cathedral Catholic (12-2).
Per the norm with these Bulldogs, players pointed to each other for the success.
“It was the defense,” star receiver Joe Ngata said. “They carried us.”
Said Bennett, “It took all of us. We just love each other so much. It’s amazing what we just did.”
Bennett and Ngata will be off to college in a matter of days as early graduates, Bennett to Boise State and Ngata to Clemson. They hooked up one last time to tie it 14-14 on a 9-yard scoring play with 1:37 left in regulation.
Bennett’s 1-yard score tied it 7-7 with 5:38 left in the third. Bennett passed for 262 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 168 yards and a score. He finished the season with 4,225 yards and 62 touchdowns and finished his career with 8,913 yards passing and 121 touchdowns. He also finished with 2,168 career yards rushing and 38 touchdowns.
Ngata bows out as the most dominant and explosive skill player in program history, and he’d surely make the shortest list of all-time area greats.
The offensive line of tackles Chandon Pierre and Garrison Passmore, guards David Ruiz and Joe Wagner and center Kaden Richardson were the team foundation pieces all season.
The defense under coordinator Sam Cole was also stellar much of the season, including here, a unit headed by linemen Caleb Freeland, Tyler Hardeman, DeShawn Lynch and Pierre. Chandon had five sacks and 14 tackles.
Also in a hugging mood was coach Kris Richardson, the driving force behind the program. He sought out coaches, and players sought him out. And then he found wife Kelly, the team mom often too nervous to sit still.
Richardson’s son, Kaden, anchors the offensive line. His older son, Kooper, is a starting tackle for UC Davis and attended the game.
“Kris lets the kids be kids,” assistant coach Paul Doherty said. “He wants them to be good students and good players, to focus on that, but to also be kids, so if they want to have long hair and earrings, that’s OK.
“And there’s always continuity here. Everyone is on the same page.”
Said offensive coordinator Bobby Fresques, “What we’ve done is unprecedented, amazing. It’s incredible. These are good kids, on and off the field.”
Richardson and his staff said when your best players are also the hardest-working players, anything is possible. That’s been the case this decade, be it Dano Graves with the state title team of 2010 or Jake Browning and Jonah Williams on the 16-0 team in 2014.
Follow The Bee’s Joe Davidson: email@example.com, @SacBee_JoeD, sacbee.com/high-school.