Things not always easy for Bulldog football team despite final score

By: Matt Long, Sports Editor
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A 38-point win doesn’t sound very dramatic, but the Bulldogs, both individually and as a unit, had bits and pieces of adversity to overcome before things started to turn in their favor in Friday’s Nor-Cal I-AA championship game against Central.

Folsom turned the ball over on three of its four possessions, which in most football games at this stage in the season would be a recipe for disaster. For Folsom, it wasn’t because of the resiliency shown but the players and offense as a unit.

Folsom’s defense allowed seven touchdowns, as Central moved the ball up and down the field with an elusiveness that had Folsom’s defenders running all over the field. Most teams that score 46 points are going to win, but the Bulldogs made stops when they needed to and got the separation from the Grizzlies they needed.

Folsom quarterback Kaiden Bennett, who hadn’t thrown an interception since the season-opening game way back on Aug. 17, had his first pass of the game picked off, and then later his first pass of Folsom’s third drive was again caught by a player from the wrong team. Bennett could have fallen apart under the pressure of having made those mistakes, but he didn’t.

“It was difficult because I hadn’t thrown an interception since the De La Salle game,” Bennett said. “The first one was just a bad throw on my part. The second was a really bad throw on my part. I just had to shake it off and get back to doing what I do. It’s just a mental thing.”

And the rest was history, as Bennett was nearly flawless, as he finished the game by 276 yards passing and four touchdowns to go with 94 yards rushing and four touchdowns.

CJ Hutton was in charge of covering Central’s best receiver, Jeremiah Hunter, and gave up a couple big pass plays early, as did Noah Jenkins in a few instances. Jenkins recovered to pick off two big passes, one at the goal line in the second quarter, and the other at the start of the third quarter that he returned for a touchdown that gave Folsom a three-score cushion. Hutton played better defensively as the game went on, and was great on offense from the start, as he had eight carries for 145 yards and a touchdown, and also caught four passes for 48 yards.

“I knew they would pick on me, because they did last year when I played free safety and I gave up some plays,” Hutton said. “I was ready. If you get beat, you can’t let it get to you. All you can do is bounce back and play the next play. I knew guarding No. 3 (Hunter) would be a challenge. If they got me on defense, I knew I’d have to make a play on offense.”

Folsom’s defensive unit was facing a Central offense that entering the game had scored more points than the Bulldogs, which is saying something. Central quarterback Trent Tompkins was agile and slippery and Folsom had to chase him all over the field, which proved tiresome. The Bulldogs starting defensive line of Chandon Pierre and Deshawn Lynch at the ends and Caleb Freeland and Tyler Hardeman on the inside were rested with back-ups Grant Furrey, Logan Harrison, Jake Melander and Kaden Richardson, who all contributed to a solid effort and performance by the group.

Folsom allowed seven touchdowns and 46 points, but it was more than enough to get the job done. Defensive coordinator Sam Cole was proud of the group.

“They were resilient,” Cole said. “Central plays at such a high tempo that it’s not easy to have an answer for them, but the guys never got down and just stayed the course.”

Special teams played a big part in the game like the offenses and defenses did. The kickoffs were like a chess match, as each time the strategy was different for both teams. It was like a small game inside of a larger one that actually made for interesting watching. Bryce Buck did a good job with placing his kicks and the coverage team did its job by getting to the ball. Grant Furrey was able to recover one kick. Folsom’s “hands” team was also solid in making all the plays they needed to.

“At this point in the season, no one wants to kick it to the return guys because they’re so explosive,” Richardson said. “So you try to find a weakness and maybe try to steal a possession if you can. We try to be aggressive in all aspects.”

Richardson was proud of his entire team for shrugging off the rough start and coming through in the big game.

“This is a veteran group that’s going to battle for four quarters,” Richardson said. “We’ve had our slow starts, our slumps and hiccups, but we do the things we need to do to beat teams.”

The Bulldogs now have a chance to win a second straight state championship and fourth since 2010 when they play Cathedral Catholic at 8 p.m. Friday at Cerritos College in Norwalk.

“Some guys are lucky enough to win a state championship, but not many get a chance to win two so we’ve got a chance to make history,” Hutton said. “We’ve got to get it done.”