Bulldogs top Mustangs, 63-25; roll to seventh section title in last nine years

By: Matt Long, Sports Editor
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Sometimes it takes awhile for Folsom’s offense to get going.

And when it does, like it has in most games this decade, it normally doesn’t slow down until the starters are removed from the game.

Saturday night against Monterey Trail in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game, the Bulldogs held a narrow 21-13 lead at halftime. While three touchdowns in a half isn’t too shabby, the Bulldogs are used to scoring on more than 50 percent of their possessions.

In the pivotal third quarter, Folsom scored six touchdowns on six possessions, while Monterey Trial didn’t pick up a first down in five possessions, as Folsom outscored the Mustangs, 42-0, on its way to a 63-25 victory.

For the Bulldogs, it was their second straight section title and seventh in the last nine seasons, and their fifth title at the Division I level, tying Cordova and Elk Grove for the most in section history.

“Sometimes it takes our offense to get going, but I knew the blue avalanche was coming,” Folsom coach Kris Richardson said of his offense. “As soon as it started happening, our guys started having a good time.”

It was a perfect quarter for the Bulldogs on both sides of the ball. With six touchdowns in six possessions on offense, the Bulldogs were unstoppable. On the other side of the ball, after Monterey Trail gained 141 yards rushing in the first half, in the third quarter Folsom held them to only 13 yards and no first downs.

Folsom quarterback Kaiden Bennett had three touchdown runs in the quarter, and also threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Joe Ngata. Daniyel Ngata (6 catches, 135 yards) opened the scoring in the second half on a 5-yard touchdown run, and Elijhah Badger ended it on a 67-yard punt return with no time left on the clock.

“We started off slowly, but I missed a couple of throws,” Bennett said of the first half. “I like coming out and letting it rip, but I just overthrew a couple of throws and under threw another. I felt good, though, and we made the right adjustments.”

Bennett finished the game with 368 yards passes and four touchdowns; one each to the Ngata brothers, Badger (5 catches, 115 yards), and Parker Clayton. Bennett also rushed for 147 yards on 14 carries for three scores, 101 more yards than his previous highest total this season.

Folsom’s defense played an equally strong game. While Folsom gave up 191 yards in the first half, 141 on the ground, the Bulldogs made plays when they needed to, particularly in the red zone. Four times in the first half the Mustangs had the ball inside the Folsom 16-yard line, and they only scored one touchdown.

On Monterey Trail’s first possession, the Mustangs moved the ball to Folsom 16-yard line before Caleb Nelson broke up a fourth-and-six pass. Later with the Mustangs trailing 14-7 and going for the potential tying score, Folsom stopped a fourth-down run at the two-yard line in what at the time was the biggest play of the game.

Late in the half with the Mustangs trailing 21-13, they again had a good chance to score. On third-and-six from the 10-yard line, running back Jehiel Budgett got the ball from quarterback Zach Larrier and threw the ball into the end zone. The ball was tipped and ended up in the hands of defensive tackle Tyler Hardeman, ending yet another golden scoring opportunity for the Mustangs.

“We do pursuit drills every day in practice, and I was just pursuing the ball and was in the right place at the right time,” Hardeman said. “I saw the quarterback pitch the ball the back, and I could tell he was going to throw it so I just dropped back in coverage. It felt good. It was my first varsity interception.”

Fellow defensive tackle Caleb Freeland also made a big play in the game when he recovered a fumble in the third quarter that led to Folsom’s fifth touchdown.

“It felt amazing to provide for my team,” Freeland said. “That’s all I want to do. They were a tough team early, but I could tell they were getting tired. They weren’t as sharp.”

Linebacker Noah Jenkins also had a good game, as he was in on seven tackles.

“Early on, we just weren’t surveying the field,” Jenkins said of Monterey Trail’s effective run game in the first half. “We had a good talk at halftime, and came out and played like we normally do.”

Monterey Trail scored twice in the fourth quarter against Folsom’s second-team defense, but in the end it was Folsom’s second-straight section title.

“It feels good to win it this year, because last year I didn’t play as much last year until the end of the season,” Jenkins said. “I played my heart out this year.”

Added Hardeman, “It feels awesome to win, and I’m super glad we made it back this year. “To win it twice is something special that a lot of teams don’t get to experience.”

Richardson told his team to enjoy the accomplishment.

“I know we can get caught up in talking about state championships,” Richardson told his team, “but you can’t win a state championship unless you win a section championship first. Enjoy this. Back before there was a state championship, every team’s goal was to win a section championship. Now you’re a part of history. You are one of the most athletic, dominant group of guys ever to play in the section. It took a lot of work. The seniors led the way, and to you juniors and sophomores, we’re not done yet.”

Folsom advances to a Northen California playoff game; the details of which will be announced on Sunday.