Joe Davidson

Unconventional, unrelenting Folsom tops Elk Grove for section championship

Folsom’s Drake Stallworth (2) tries to escape a tackle by Elk Grove’s Julius Fullah on Saturday. The Bulldogs won their fifth section title since 2010.
Folsom’s Drake Stallworth (2) tries to escape a tackle by Elk Grove’s Julius Fullah on Saturday. The Bulldogs won their fifth section title since 2010.

The Folsom Bulldogs do a lot of unique things in football, but not all of it is routine and predictable.

They are anything but conventional. Exciting? Prolific? Champions?

All of those elements register an emphatic yes for the preeminent powerhouse in the Sac-Joaquin Section, and it all played out on a big stage on Saturday night against a formidable opponent.

Folsom delivered three onside kicks in the first half, went for it on fourth down when every old-school fan surely groaned, “PUNT!” and went deep when common sense might’ve suggested going off tackle. All told, Folsom had all the plays and all the answers, holding off Elk Grove 35-27 in a Division I section championship thriller at Sacramento State.

It was the first meeting in the section of 13-0 heavies since Merced edged Nevada Union in 1989, and the Bulldogs are not finished yet. Having extended its state-leading winning streak to 30 games, Folsom now looks to make it 44 in a row at home next weekend. The Bulldogs expect to host a NorCal Regional title game at Prairie City Stadium. The NorCal playoff announcement is Sunday.

On the daring play calling, Folsom co-coaches Kris Richardson and Troy Taylor said this was no time to go soft and meek. Play like champions, the coaches urged their players.

“We weren’t worried about a short field for the onside kicks,” Taylor said, expressing confidence in his defense and his team in general. “We knew we’d need a bounce here or there to make the difference, and it was. We knew it’d be a 15-round, slug-it-out game, and it was.”

The leading puncher was Jake Jeffrey. The senior quarterback was again spectacular for Folsom, passing for 377 yards and three touchdowns.

It seemed fitting that the young man who grew up dreaming of a chance to quarterback this program would have the ball last. He ran out the clock to stall Elk Grove’s upset bid.

Jeffrey overcame two interceptions and now has 3,764 yards passing and 48 touchdowns, and Folsom now has five section titles this decade. The next goal, of course, is to repeat as CIF State winners.

Jeffrey was a receiver for Folsom last season, catching 15 touchdowns. He has more than admirably replaced Jake Browning, who set scores of national prep passing and touchdown marks and has impressed as a freshman at Washington.

“The kid has been so resilient, so competitive,” Taylor said of Jeffrey. “We sometimes worry that his emotions might get the best of him, he cares so much, but that never happens. ... He personifies our team.”

And Ryan Robards personifies Elk Grove.

The stellar senior put in a full effort, per his outrageous competitive norm. He rushed for 159 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries, giving him 50 total scores in one of the greatest individual seasons in section history.

Robards gave Elk Grove a 7-0 lead on his team’s first offensive possession, bolting in from 16 yards out after Lau Ta’amu recovered a fumble. Jeffrey hit Christian Huber for a 12-yard touchdown and Drake Stallworth for scoring plays of 18 and 14 yards for a 28-14 halftime lead. Jayden Machado’s 11-yard touchdown to Gavin Reinwald and Robards’ 40-yard scoring romp pulled the Herd to within 28-27 as the point-after kick missed with 2:52 left in the third. Roger Neal scored on a six-yard run in the fourth quarter.

Elk Grove coach Chris Nixon has seen plenty of Folsom quarterback mastery this decade, and as a prep quarterback at Nevada Union in the early 1980s, he can appreciate talent and execution. Nixon and the Herd witnessed a Tanner Trosin clinic in 2011 as Folsom prevailed 42-28 in the playoffs. And Elk Grove got a handful from young Browning, who as a sophomore keyed a 44-18 playoff win over Elk Grove.

“Their quarterbacks,” Nixon said earlier this week, “are always so good.”

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