Bulldogs roll on to eighth-straight section title game
Kaiden Bennett’s support system could probably field a football team.
Every time the Folsom High signal caller hits the field for a game — playoff, regular season or even preseason — he can hear them in the stands. The 30-plus family members and friends belt out his name, and hold their breath as he dips and dodges defenders on the Bulldogs’ signature blue turf.
“They show up to every game — I love my family,” Bennett said following his team’s big win Friday night in the CIF Division 1 playoffs. “That’s why I do it, for them.”
Bennett tossed three touchdowns and ran for another Friday, as his team beat No. 4 Jesuit, 27-14, to advance to the section title game next Saturday.
“This will be our eighth-straight year going to the section championship game, and I’ll take it,” said Folsom coach Kris Richardson, who will look to win the team’s sixth section title in that eight-year span.
With history on his side, the Bulldogs’ longtime coach once again put his team in position to light up the scoreboard the day after Thanksgiving, as they registered 20 points in the first half and maintained a two touchdown lead up over Jesuit until the start of the fourth quarter.
And for the 32nd time in a row, Richardson’s squad scored at least 25 points in the playoffs — a streak that dates back to 2006.
“We executed when we needed to, but it was a penalty-filled night — some on us and some that I don’t know about,” Richardson pointed out. “But it is what it is — it’s high school football, so you just have to keep playing.”
Despite three uncharacteristic turnovers in the red zone and a number of drive-killing penalties, the Bulldogs moved the ball up and down the field Friday against a stout Jesuit defense.
Whether they relied on Bennett’s arm, or his legs, the offense went through No. 1 and he put up big numbers again.
With four more scores this week, Bennett has a whopping 57 touchdowns this year.
“Kaiden is an incredible player,” Richardson exclaimed. “Kaiden Bennett and Joe Ngata are the two best players in the section — bar none. It’s not even close. And for Kaiden, he started as an already great player, but now he’s an incredible quarterback and I’m thrilled to have him.”
After Jesuit took an early lead on a 62-yard touchdown pass from Hank Harvego to Evan Panson on the team’s second play from scrimmage, Folsom answered back with three straight scores before halftime.
“They took advantage of a great throw and catch on a deep ball,” Richardson admitted. “We knew that was their M.O. — they want to take deep shots early and get you on your heels. But our defense played great tonight. They shut them down after that.”
The Bulldogs used their own big play — a 48-yard bomb down the left sideline from Bennett to Elijhah Badger — to tie the game at 7-7 midway through the first.
Bennett then found his speedy sophomore running back Daniyel Ngata for a 29-yard screen pass to give Folsom a 13-7 lead. Ngata broke two tackles on his way to six, but he wasn’t touched until he was 15 yards downfield.
“Through our empty set, we saw some holes opening up,” Bennett explained. “We opened it up and we were able to get down the field.”
Bennett added his team’s third score of the game on a quarterback-keeper from the one-yard-line after Joe Ngata — the tall, talented junior wideout — nearly scored on a fly sweep shovel pass from the 13-yard line.
Running or passing, Bennett’s dual-threat frustrated Jesuit’s defense all night.
“We couldn’t keep him in the pocket; we couldn’t contain him and he was their difference maker,” Marauders coach Marlon Blanton admitted. “If we could contain him, I think it becomes a different game. I mean, they didn’t really beat us with the pass, but he ran all over us.”
Jesuit bounced back in the third, as they responded with a 97-yard drive after Bennett made his only mistake of the night — a fumble on a sneak up the middle a few feet shy of the end zone.
The Marauders needed a fourth-down conversion at the end the third period before they found the end zone and pulled within one score thanks to a Jason Gallagher one-yard plunge. But that was as close as they would get.
Folsom converted two fourth-down plays off a sneak from Bennett and another thanks to a defensive holding penalty to rally for one more touchdown and put the game out of reach.
Bennett capped the drive with his third touchdown pass, as he found sophomore receiver CJ Hutton for a 12-yard strike after buying time with his legs. With 4:18 left in regulation, Jesuit couldn’t mount a comeback.
“I should have ran the ball more,” Blanton admitted, “and helped my team out a bit. For that defensive group, they played an incredible offense and held them to 27 points — that’s tough to do.”
Richardson says his team will study the tape and fix some mistakes, but they’ll enjoy this victory as their season continues.
Folsom earns a rematch against No. 3 seeded St. Mary’s of Stockton in the section title game next Saturday, Dec. 2 at Sacramento State.
“It feels amazing,” Bennett said of the win. “Everybody wants to do this, and I am able to get this opportunity. I get to take my team to another level, and we want to win this next game.”
Last year, St. Mary’s ended Folsom’s hopes of a fourth successive championship, as they beat the Bulldogs, 56-25, in the finals. The Rams advance to the title game after taking down No. 2 seed Oak Ridge, 38-31, in the other semifinal matchup.
“St. Mary’s is a great program,” Richardson admitted. “(Coach) Tony (Franks) does a great job there. We’re familiar with them after playing them the last two years — they got us once and we got them once — so we’ll go in and see who wins.”