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The Folsom Bulldogs finally reached and won the CIF State Div. I bowl with a team dominating in all phases   By JIM McCUE...

The Folsom Bulldogs finally reached and won the CIF State Div. I bowl with a team dominating in all phases

  By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor

  The Folsom High football team is not a one-trick Bulldog.

  For all of the attention and notoriety brought to the program by the eye-popping numbers generated by senior quarterback Jake Browning, the 2014 NorCal Division I champion is much more than the state and national records its three-year passing phenom has accumulated.

  Co-coaches Kris Richardson and Troy Taylor have already won a CIF State Bowl Championship in 2010, but this year’s team is the most complete football team the pair has guided. Beyond Browning, the Bulldogs boast five capable ball-carriers, a deep group of talented receivers, and, perhaps most importantly, an extremely stout defensive unit.

  “Obviously, everything gets compared to the 2010 team,” Taylor said while holding back from declaring the 2014 Bulldogs the best Folsom football team ever. “This team is incredibly balanced and deeper than any team we have had.

  “The size that we have up front with three D-1 offensive linemen is something that we have never had before.”

  Past Folsom teams have compiled huge numbers on offense to the point that observers credit the “system” more than the talented players within the system. However, no group of Bulldog defenders have been as tough and efficient as this year’s group. The Folsom defense has allowed an average of 10.1 points per game and allowed more than 14 points in just two games this year. Many of those points came late in games after Folsom held huge leads and many starters were watching the blowout wins from the sideline.

  The adage that defense wins championships has rung true this year as Folsom finally won its first Northern California regional title. After winning Sac-Joaquin Section championships in each of the last two years, the Bulldogs suffered their lone losses of 2012 and 2013 to the De La Salle-Concord buzz-saw in the NorCal Open Division final. 

  A change in the regional finals format eliminated the Open Division final, and instead gave the section commissioners the power to select Open Division state finalists from Northern and Southern California. That placed Folsom in the 2014 Div. I NorCal final against local- and section-rival Grant-Sacramento. The Bulldogs overcame a slow start— Folsom led just 3-0 after one quarter — and routed the Pacers 52-21 after leading 46-0 after three quarters.

  Bailey Laolagi holds the ball up after his INT return for a TD.The win that earned a berth in the CIF State Div. I Bowl game on Friday night displayed the dominance Folsom has shown all season long. But it also highlighted just how versatile the Bulldogs are and how many ways Browning and his teammates can beat a quality opponent. The record-setting quarterback’s relatively pedestrian 292 yards passing and three TDs were overshadowed by numerous facets of the 2014 team which casual observers are not familiar with.

  The running game was extremely effective, with a trio of ball carriers toting the football 29 times for 215 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns. Senior Bryan Weldy, a 5-foot-8, 195-pound battering ram, led the way with 85 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown. Bailey Laolagi, who missed much of last year’s playoffs with an injury, added 69 yards and a score, while junior Tre Green raced for 61 yards on just six carries. Junior Roger Neal, who leads Folsom with 520 yards rushing this year, and senior Sam Whittingham, have been used less later in the season to allow them to focus their efforts on defense.

  “We have five backs that we can use that are very capable runners,” Taylor said. “We know that we can be efficient throwing the ball, but if we are able to run the ball then we are going to do it.”

  The efficient rushing attack kept the Grant defense from focusing solely on Browning, and also allowed the defense to remain well-rested. The Bulldogs defenders turned in an impressive effort against a mammoth Pacers offensive line that few teams could handle all season.

  The unsung unit knows that the offense gets the glory, and is comfortable with its role on what they hope will be a state-championship roster.

  “As a defense, we understand that if we get the ball back to the offense, then we will score points and can win the game,” senior defensive end Sam Whitney said.

  That’s exactly what Whitney and his defensive teammates did in the NorCal final, and the offense held up its end of the deal. But not all of the scoring came in the usual way as the Bulldogs exhibited versatility to account for a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter.

  First, with a 10-0 lead early in the quarter, Folsom lined up at the Grant 6-yard line with the defense anticipating a Browning pass to go for the score. Instead, the quarterback handed the ball off to wide receiver Josiah Deguara running what appeared to be an end around. Rather than continue to run right with the ball, Deguara stopped in the backfield and tossed a soft throwback pass to an uncovered Browning, who snuck out of the backfield after handing the ball off. The receiving touchdown was the first of Browning’s career.

  “We always have two or three trick plays, but we don’t get the chance to run them when we get big leads early in games,” Taylor said. “We have run it only a couple of times in the last 13 years, but we saw an opportunity to do it.”

  The defense also got into the act by scoring a touchdown and a safety to close out the first-half scoring. Laolagi jumped a passing route from his linebacker position and returned the interception 19 yards for a touchdown. On the last play of the second quarter, Grant quarterback Donovan Brown eluded pressure from the Folsom pass rush before throwing the ball away after the clocked showed all zero’s. The officiating crew conferred and would rule that Brown intentionally grounded the ball from the end zone for a controversial safety.

  The two points would not matter as scoring weapons, expected and unexpected, continued to light up the scoreboard for Folsom. Lost in the attention Browning’s national career TD record garnered was a quietly outstanding season from senior wide receiver Cole Thompson. Thompson, who is committed to Harvard, caught a pair of touchdown passes in the NorCal final to give him a California state record-tying 33 touchdown catches this season.

  “(Thompson) was not even a starter last year,” Taylor said, “but he really improved and worked very hard in the offseason. He is the fastest guy on the team and we thought that he had potential this year, but he has exceeded all expectations.”

  Folsom will next take its diverse talents to Carson where the Bulldogs (15-0) will face undefeated Oceanside (14-0) in the Div. I state final at 8 p.m. on Dec. 19. The Pirates won the San Diego Section Open Div. title and defeated Edison-Fresno 37-22 in the SoCal regional final. Oceanside features a balanced offense that split its nearly 5,000 yards of offense evenly between the passing and running games.

  Regardless of what its Southern California foe brings to the state final, Folsom is excited about the opportunity to show off its multiple talents and give the program its second CIF Bowl victory.

  “The 2010 team and title definitely had a big effect on the program,” said Whitney, who like many on the Bulldogs roster watched Folsom defeat Serra-Gardena in the Division II state championship. “We are excited about going to state after coming so close the last two years and having a chance to write a new legacy.”

Calvin Gardner (5) cuts loose as Jake Browning looks on during postgame celebration.

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