Folsom comes through in the clutch to beat Central, 54-35

Will play Helix for CIF I-AA state title; program's third title game since 2010
By: Matt Long of the Telegraph
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Leading 40-21 with 11-plus minutes to play, Folsom was well in control of the Nor-Cal championship game against Central on Friday night.

Or so it seemed.

Within five minutes, Central had scored two touchdowns to come within five points at 40-35 with 6:58 to play. How the team responded would decide whether the Bulldogs would advance to the state championship game.

Folsom calmly put together an eight-play, 65-yard drive capped off by a seven-yard pass from Kaiden Bennett to Joe Ngata for the touchdown that put Folsom comfortably back in front, 47-35, with 3:34 to play. Bennett lofted the scoring pass high in the corner on the end zone for a his 6-3 receiver, who out-leaped a shorter defender for the critical touchdown. It’s a pass play that Folsom has executed several times this season.

“When in doubt, you get the ball to your playmakers,” Folsom coach Kris Richardson said of the drive which running back Daniyel Ngata had four touches, Joe Ngata had two, and Bennett threw the ball twice and ran it once. “Once we started to run the ball (in the second half) that opened everything up. Joe and KB have great chemistry. KB has trust in Joe that he can go get it, and Joe has the timing down.”

Joe Ngata had another outstanding game for the Bulldogs, as he caught eight passes for 147 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran the ball twice for 46 yards.

From there, Folsom’s defense took over. CJ Hutton scooped up a Central fumble and returned it about 60 yards for a touchdown and a 54-35 final score. The win advances the Bulldogs to its third state championship game since 2010.

When Folsom needed it the most, the Bulldogs came through and made the big plays they needed to win the game.

“We kept our composure, and didn’t fold under pressure,” said Daniyel Ngata, who had a great game, rushing for 126 yards and two scores, while also catching seven balls for 98 yards.

For Hutton, the final touchdown meant a lot to him after Central made some big plays on him earlier in the game.

“Defensively, we tried to lock them up,” Hutton said. “We shut down the run pretty good. They were working me at safety, and I tried to limit the middle of the field and prevent the deep ball. They got me on a couple out routes, and I got them on a couple. They challenged me and it was fun.

“That touchdown relieved some stress. I was so excited I didn’t even know what to do with the ball.”

The Folsom defense, while allowing 35 points, played well for most of the night. Defensive ends Cruz Lara and Justin Viega kept Central quarterback Trent Thompkins in the pocket. With linebacker Dylan Jorge out, safety Tanner Ward moved down to linebacker and Hutton and Gavin Davis-Smith handled the workload at safety.

In the secondary, cornerbacks Richard Cornelius and Isaiah Barner and linebacker Parker Clayton all had interceptions.

“The defense was amazing,” said Bennett, who completed 23-of-38 passes for 327 yards and four touchdowns, while also rushing for 67 yards and a score. “They got the job done, and that’s why I love them. They make my life easier.”

For Ward, the win was special.

“This win means everything,” said Ward, who played exceptionally well in his first game at linebacker. “From a 5-year-old kid playing Pop Warner to this; I can’t explain it.”

Folsom trailed 7-0 before tying the game on the first Bennett-to-Ngata scoring pass. A nine-yard touchdown pass from Bennett to Elijhah Badger followed by a two-yard scoring run by Daniyel Ngata gave the Bulldogs a 20-7 lead with four minutes to play in the first half.

Central made it 20-14 by halftime, but Folsom scored the first two touchdowns of the third quarter – one on a 49-yard reception by Joe Ngata and the other on an 11-yard-run by Bennett – and the Bulldogs led 34-14 with three minutes to play in the third quarter, setting up the dramatic fourth quarter.

Folsom (15-0) will play Helix (13-1) for the CIF I-AA state championship Friday night at Sacramento State.