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Bulldogs state champs for a third time; defeat Helix 49-42

By: Matt Long of the Telegraph
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Leading 42-35 with 6:07 to play, Folsom’s offense needed one more touchdown drive to wrap up a perfect 16-0 season.

The Helix offense had scored on its previous two possessions and Folsom’s defense was tiring. The Bulldogs needed one final score to secure a state championship.

With everything on the line, the Bulldogs put together a 12-play, 71-yard drive, capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by quarterback Kaiden Bennett. Helix managed one more score to make it 49-42, but Parker Clayton recovered the onside kick and the Bulldogs ran out the clock to claim their third state title since 2010. With the win, the Bulldogs equaled their feat in 2014, finishing the season with a 16-0 record; the only two teams from the Sac-Joaquin Section to ever have done it.

“The offensive line protected; we ran the ball when we needed to and the defense made stops,” Folsom coach Kris Richardson said. “We were holding it together late with duct tape and chewing gum, as Parker (Clayton) and CJ (Hutton) got banged up, but Parker made the play of the game when he recovered the onside kick. It was a nerve-racking game for a coach, but I bet it was an incredible game to watch.”

Bennett put together another incredible game for the Bulldogs, as he completed 21-of-32 passes for 327 yards and four TDs, while rushing for 147 yards and scoring twice.

“I’ve had a couple good games this year and this was one of them,” Bennett said, “but this is the best game I’ve played in.”

While things ended well for the Bulldogs, they didn’t start well. On the second play of the game, Folsom attempted a screen pass from its own 14-yard line, which was intercepted and returned to the four-yard line. Three plays later, Helix had a 7-0 lead. Folsom’s second drive ended on downs at the Helix 27. On the next play, UC Davis-bound quarterback Carson Baker (19-for-31, 322 yards, 3 TDs) threw a 73-yard TD pass to Isaiah Wooden (7 catches, 172 yards, 1 TD) and Helix led 14-0.

“We were down early in games against Oakdale, Sac High, Granite Bay and Oak Ridge,” Richardson said. “I knew if we just locked in and took it one play at a time and strung some plays together we’d get momentum back and that’s what happened. Our defense stepped up and then we scored four touchdowns in a row.”

Those four touchdowns came from four different players, as the Bulldogs spread the ball around with Helix focusing on star receiver Joe Ngata (5 catches, 98 yards, 1 TD). Bennett threw a 70-yard touchdown pass to Elijhah Badger (4 catches, 102 yards 1 TD) that looked nothing more than a 15-yard gain before he broke two tackles and sprinted 55 more yards to a score.

“I don’t know how I got out of that,” said Badger. “Powerful I guess. I have no clue.”

That touchdown seemed to spark the Bulldogs, and like Richardson has said many times, once the offense gets rolling, it’s hard to stop.

Bennett then connected with Ngata for a 49-yard touchdown and then four yards to Hutton (5 catches, 90 yards, 2 TDs) for a third touchdown. With 2:10 to play before halftime, Bennett ran one into the end zone himself from 32 yards out and the Bulldogs led 28-14 at the break.

After scoring on their first two drives, Helix finished the half with four punts, a turnover on downs and an interception from Folsom’s Gavin Davis-Smith.

The offenses went toe-to-toe in the second half. Three times Helix scored to cut Folsom’s lead to seven points, and three times the Bulldogs answered to boost the lead back up to 14.

Daniyel Ngata scored on a two-yard run; Hutton caught his second touchdown pass on a 54-yard throw from Bennett, and Bennett capped Folsom’s scoring with the one-yard run.

Helix managed one last score to make it 49-42, but Clayton sealed it for the Bulldogs by recovering the onside kick.

The win, the 16-0 season, and state championship was powerful enough to have Badger, Tanner Ward and other players in tears after the game.

“This is something good for a sophomore,” said Badger, searching for an explanation for his tears. “It just feels good.”

As for Ward, his tears were for more sentimental reasons.

“I’ve been playing football since I was 5 years old,” he said. “I was in fifth grade when the 2010 team won a state title and ever since then that’s been the ultimate goal for me so to accomplish that just made me cry.”

Joe Ngata had a good game against corners Rashad Scott, the defensive player of the year in San Diego, and Isaac Taylor-Stuart. He proved he was up for the challenge.

“It was a good battle,” Ngata said. “I was challenged and so were they. We played a better game.”

Folsom also had strong games from their other starting receivers, as Hutton, Badger and Clayton combined for 13 catches for 215 yards and three scores.

“With all the hype with Joe, those three guys made great catches and got in the end zone and that was a big part of the game,” Bennett said.

Said Richardson, “Those three guys stepped up. Badger is tough to tackle, and CJ is slippery. Parker played a big game on both sides of the ball.”

Defensively, Elijah Swonger led the Bulldogs with nine tackles, while Isaiah Barner, Ward and Tyler Hardeman each had eight.