Joe Davidson

Bulldogs roll to the state title, finish 16-0

Folsom’s Austin Rothrock shows everyone he has the ball after recovering a fumble that set up the go-ahead touchdown.
Folsom’s Austin Rothrock shows everyone he has the ball after recovering a fumble that set up the go-ahead touchdown. rbenton@sacbee.com

Now they can exhale. Every one of them.

The players, the coaches, the alumni, the fans, followers and parents who hitched their hopes and dreams to this football machine and didn’t want to hit the brakes until after Week 16.

And so it goes. The Folsom High School Bulldogs finished with the exclamation point they expected to in muscling their way into history.

Trailing for the first time all season and then responding with fury, Folsom belted a 14-0 Oceanside team known for its size, skill and resilience 68-7 on Friday night at the StubHub Center in the CIF State Division I Championship game to cap the most thundering of seasons.

Jake Browning, as he has been for three years, was the best player on the field, passing for 453 yards and six touchdowns to conclude the most prolific prep career in history. And typical Browning, he sized it up this way: “The trophies and records are nice, but it’s the friendships that mean the most. I don’t know how many touchdowns I have this season, but I can name everyone on our team, when I met them, and tell you a funny story about each one.”

For the record, Browning finished with 91 touchdown passes this season, tying the national prep record. His 229 career touchdown passes are a prep national standard that may stand a lifetime, and it’s a milestone he never saw coming. And more: Folsom’s 915 points are the most produced by a high school team.

The Bulldogs were not challenged this season, and only briefly here, in becoming the first large-school team in Northern California to go 16-0. Folsom’s effort was inspired and cut-throat efficient as it controlled the line of scrimmage and raced to a 41-7 halftime lead. Browning directed a late-half scoring drive, capped by a 6-yard touchdown pass to Tre Green with 11.8 seconds to go, and on the second play of the second half, he hit Jake Jeffrey for a 35-yard touchdown strike and a 48-7 lead, and just like that, the storied Pirates of the San Diego Section were buckled. Coming in, Oceanside coach John Carroll deemed Folsom the best team he’d ever seen on film, and then the Bulldogs dropped the most points ever by an opponent.

As the CIF celebrates its 100th year, few teams have plowed through a season with the ease of this one. Now history will judge the Bulldogs. Is it an all-time regional best? How does it stand in NorCal and state history?

“We didn’t want the what-if,” Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson said this week. “What if we started 15-0 but didn’t finish. Yeah, we’d be very proud to be considered one of the greatest teams of all time, not only in Sacramento but in Northern California. The things we’ve done (are) incredible, and we’ve done it the right way. It’s a great group, very mature, and the way the program has developed and come of age is amazing.”

Folsom was bonded by a mixture of returning stars in Browning and wide receiver Josiah Deguara and linemen Sam Whitney and Cody Creason and onetime reserves who became starters, such as lineman Jake Coveau. Cole Thompson went from a seldom-used receiver to the most prolific one in state history with 34 touchdown catches that also tied him for the most in national history. And injured players returned better this season, wiser and humbled from their experiences, including linebackers Bailey Laolagi and Sam Whittingham. Laolagi had an interception and returned a fumble 65 yards for a score on the final play. Add it all up, and the Folsom coaches say it produced the “perfect storm.”

The one word you didn’t hear this season was ego. You did hear brotherhood and team, regularly.

“It really is a great team,” Folsom co-coach Troy Taylor said. “The character and chemistry is unique. You try to breathe them in and enjoy this, but you don’t want to get caught up in the sentimental aspect and lose focus. And it ends quickly. The season is over. These guys become a part of your life. You’re with them every day, then all of a sudden, it’s up and gone. It’s sad, but you’re also very happy.”

Browning tied it 7-7 on a 4-yard run, followed by touchdown tosses of 22 yards to Jake Morgado and 23 to Deguara. Laolagi and Green powered in for scoring runs of 1 and 9 yards, all in the first half, as Folsom displayed its dominance and balance.

Whitney set the defensive tone from the start when he blew up a reverse for a 13-yard loss. The Bulldogs had five first-half sacks as the defensive line of Whitney, Nooner, Creason, Lukas Hendricks and Jonah Williams again had their way. And onetime starters who never rocked the boat made plays, including defensive lineman Austin Rothrock. He recovered a second-quarter fumble that led to a touchdown and the 14-7 lead, and the rout was on.

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