Folsom crushes Elk Grove to play for five-peat

By: Nick Pecoraro for the Telegraph
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When are the naysayers going to stop counting the Folsom High Bulldogs out?

As if winning two state titles in five years was not enough. As if making it to every Sac-Joaquin Section championship game in this decade just won’t do.

Perhaps a fifth consecutive section title will silence the haters. The Bulldogs and Coach Kris Richardson earned that opportunity on Friday night at Prairie City Stadium in a Division I section semifinal against four-seed Elk Grove in a rematch of last year’s D-I title game, in which Folsom was victorious with a 35-27 section-sealing effort. This year, however, was not the classic knock-down, drag-around slobber-knocker that we’ve grown accustomed to whenever these two behemoths meet.

After a slow start, Folsom regained stride and conquered the Thundering Herd 41-3 on a day that former Folsom standout Jake Browning led his Washington Huskies to a 45-17 victory over Washington State to earn a berth in the Pac-12 Championship game. Browning’s alma mater followed suit, as the Bulldogs secured a spot in the D-I championship game next week at Sacramento State against St. Mary’s of Stockton, who knocked off Oak Ridge 61-21 on Friday.

“You know, (former Co-Coach Troy Taylor) leaves, (2016 grads Jonah Williams and Jake Jeffery) leave and everyone writes us off, but we're right where we thought we would be,” said Richardson, who will look to guide the Bulldogs to their fifth straight section title.

Brandon Rupchock had one of the biggest games of his life in one of the most important games of his career. The junior running/defensive back rushed for two touchdowns, caught one TD pass and came up with a huge interception in the third quarter.

“I treat every game like it’s a championship game,” said the speedy Rupchock after the game, while quick to give credit to guys who step up and fill in on the defensive side in lieu of recent injuries.

“Our defense was phenomenal. We just attacked and executed. We have amazing athletes and we have backups that are just as good as our starters.”

After Davin Simmons left the game early on with a leg contusion, Richardson turned to 5’9”, 170-pound tailback to help carry the load.

“Brandon is pound-for-pound one of the best football players on this team,” said Richardson. “We haven't had to utilize him as much offensively and his stats may not show it, but he is a football player and he obviously showed it tonight.”

A tight defensive first quarter saw only one score from either team. Ariel Ngata, Cruz Lara and Justin Viega kept making big plays for Herd losses for Folsom, while Marshaun Hunter had a pair of sacks in the first quarter for Elk Grove. Drake Stallworth’s 43-yard reception set up Rupchock’s four-yard touchdown run that gave the Bulldogs the game’s opening score eight minutes in.

Hunter Petracek put Elk Grove on the board with a 27-yard field goal with 2:32 left in the half, giving the Bulldogs plenty of time to pad their lead before halftime. Stallworth hauled in a 73-yard touchdown catch and Rupchock took a shovel pass from Joe Curry 25 yards on a magnificent play call for another Folsom touchdown in the final seconds to go up 21-3 before the half ended.

The Bulldog defense held a normally prolific offense that helped claim the Delta League championship to just three points after the Herd averaged over 43 over its last four outings. Elk Grove drove all the way down to the Folsom seven when, on fourth down, Jayden Machado’s pass was broken up in the end zone by Tanner Ward and Eric Davis to prevent the Herd from trimming the lead.

The Bulldogs scheduled a preseason scrimmage against the Herd (11-2) and Coach Chris Nixon and Richardson believes it played an integral part in giving his team confidence against an outstanding opponent.

“The goal was to get them into long-yardage situations and bring a lot of pressure and we ran it almost to perfection,” he said. “It took us a few series to get it going, but when your defense holds an incredible team like that to just three points, good things are going to happen.”

With the enormous game that Rupchock had, Curry somehow quietly threw for more than 400 yards with four touchdown passes, including the shovel pass to Rupchock, the 73-yarder to Stallworth, a 55-yard strike to Jack Sa and five-yard dish to Davis.

The Bulldogs have now reached seven consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section title games since 2010, winning five of them at both the Division I and II levels over that span. The Thundering Herd had won five overall titles with the last one coming in 2001. The Bulldogs also defeated Elk Grove 44-18 for the section title in 2012. Folsom is currently riding a 19-game win streak in the Sac-Joaquin Section postseason.

Now comes the match-up that the bracket-makers were hoping for: the one-seeded Bulldogs (12-1) versus the two-seeded Rams (12-1) for all the marbles. St. Mary’s last section title came in 2008 against Pleasant Grove.

“We're going to play and incredible St. Mary's team and it's going to be a great challenge but we're not going there to hang out,” said Richardson. “We're going there to compete and try to win another one.”