The Folsom Bulldogs anticipated a rumble in Placer County on Friday night, and got it for the better part of three quarters.
In facing the best defense on a schedule dotted with some of the best teams in the state, Bee No. 1 Folsom pulled away from No. 3 Rocklin to win 56-21 in a Sierra Foothill League showdown dripping with championship implications.
Folsom’s starters played a full game for the first time. The norm for the Bulldogs (8-0, 4-0) had been starters sitting at halftime or after a series in the third quarter while rolling through the early schedule looking like a viable CIF State Division I championship contender.
Jake Browning passed for 317 yards and four touchdowns, two each to Josiah Deguara and Cole Thompson; the running game of Bailey Laolagi, Tre Green and Bryan Weldy provided balance; and the defense came up with four sacks and just enough stops to stall a Thunder team used to dictating the pace.
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Browning wasn’t at his best with two interceptions after entering the game with 43 touchdown passes and two picks. Then again, the Washington-bound senior is human, and he was facing a formidable and fierce defense that has been the cornerstone of the program’s 7-0 start, Rocklin’s best since its 14-1 CIF Bowl team of 2009.
A sold-out venue, including Rocklin coaches and cheerleaders wearing pink T-shirts for breast cancer awareness, made for an electric atmosphere. The good will between the two programs included Rocklin cheerleaders presenting Folsom cheerleaders with some of those pink T-shirts.
“You couldn’t ask for a better setting, 7-0 vs. 7-0, both playing well,” Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson said. “Rocklin’s been putting up points and playing great defense, and that’s a challenge.”
And Folsom puts up points like no other, and the Bulldogs are defending better than most, too, from defensive-line dominance led by ends Lukas Hendricks and Sam Whitney and tackles Josh Kim and Jared Nooner to linebacker leaders Laolagi and Sam Whittingham.
Laolagi, also sets a physical run-game tone, and he powered in on scoring runs of 6 and 4 yards for a 14-0 first-quarter lead.
Per the gritty nature that has defined this team, Rocklin (7-1, 3-1) rallied behind quarterback Will Floyd. The junior has stepped in admirably in place of injured starter Max O’Rourke, who was pushed up and down the Rocklin sideline in a wheelchair with crutches across his lap, two weeks after suffering a broken leg against Del Oro. He had a headset on to listen to the coaches.
Floyd hit Blake Laurin and Gage Sorenson for touchdown passes of 14 and 11 yards for a 14-14 tie before Folsom broke it open with a 28-7 second half. It did so on a Browning 28-yard touchdown pass to Thompson, a Green 24-yard touchdown run, a 91-yard bomb from Browning to Deguara, a Browning 25-yarder to Thompson and a Weldy 1-yard plunge.
Folsom had four sacks, two by Whitney, who has had a Bee Defensive Player of the Year sort of season. He’s also the starting center.
“It’s been fun,” Whitney said of the season. “We’ve always been an offensive juggernaut, and now we feel like we are a defensive powerhouse.”
Rocklin defensive coordinator Jason Adams praised Folsom before the game, saying the Bulldogs present the ultimate challenge.
“Their schemes are solid on both sides of the ball, and their kids play hard,” Adams said. “They have tremendous size on the line and execute their techniques extremely well. On defense, they are physical, fast and disciplined. Did I forget to mention that they have talent?”
They also have good hearts. Browning and Folsom co-coach Troy Taylor expressed profound disappointment for O’Rourke, the Thunder’s senior leader and scholar. O’Rourke and Browning have spent countless hours working on their game, honing their craft under the watchful eye of Taylor, who runs an offseason passing academy.
“I feel so bad for him, really do,” Taylor said of O’Rourke. “The kid has worked so hard, made the most of his opportunities. Such an awesome kid and player, but he’ll bounce back.”
O’Rourke is a fan of good quarterback play, regardless of team. This includes Browning, who is on his way to a number of national high school passing records, downplaying all of it with humble aplomb.
“Jake’s an absolute stud,” O’Rourke said. “He’s a machine. Fun to watch.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.