SportStars Magazine

Young Pups, Top Dogs

Folsom Won Its Third State Title And Reclaimed Its Spot Atop Sac-Joaquin Section Football — All With A Roster That Could Be Even Better In 2018 •

Story by JIM MCCUE | Photos by JAMES K. LEASH

Winning is nothing new for Folsom football, but the Bulldogs that led Folsom to the 2017 CIF Division 1-A State Bowl Championship were new to the heights attained by this year’s team.

In securing a 49-42 victory over Helix-La Mesa on Dec. 15 at Sacramento State, Folsom’s young pups blew through a more seasoned Highlanders defense and put on an offensive display that has become the norm for the Bulldogs.

Junior quarterback Kaiden Bennett accounted for 490 yards of offense (or just more than 90 percent of the Bulldogs’ 534 total yards) and six of the team’s seven touchdowns, and underclassmen were responsible for every single yard and point recorded by the Bulldogs’ offense.

Coach Kris Richardson knew that offense was explosive, but it was not until a September road test at Oakdale that the veteran coach realized this young group had a legitimate shot at running the table.

Star junior receiver Joseph Ngata breaks loose for a 49-yard TD reception during the first quarter of the CIF 1-AA State Bowl.

“Going on the road against a senior-heavy Oakdale team at The Corral and responding to some adversity is when I felt real good about our chances to take it all the way to a state title,” Richardson said. “Having to play four complete quarters in that environment showed me a lot about this team. We had a knack, even as a young team, to respond to adversity in the right way.”

Brothers Joe and Daniyel Ngata were a sibling highlight reel all season long that grew as each game passed. Junior wide receiver Joe Ngata has attracted college recruiters from most Power 5 conference schools with nearly the entire Pac-12 having offered the 6-foot-3, 205-pound star who hauled in 81 catches for 1,777 yards and 26 TDs, and racked up more than 2,000 all-purpose yards. Daniyel, a sophomore running back, defensive back, and special teams standout, increased his workload and contributions throughout the season to finish with 863 yards rushing on just 95 carries and added a pair of 90-plus-yard kickoff return scores.

Bennett finished the season with 4,431 yards passing, 1,218 yards rushing, and 73 total touchdowns to add his name to the growing list of accomplished Folsom quarterbacks.

“The players, and especially the quarterbacks, have set such a high bar that you always want to reach,” Bennett said of playing under center at Folsom. “From the first game, though, I felt that I could reach that bar.”

Now that Bennett and the Bulldogs have reached the state championship bar set by Folsom’s 2010 and 2014 teams, they will likely be expected to raise it higher to become the first team in the program’s history to repeat as CIF State Bowl champions. While that may be a challenge, especially for a young team, the standard and expectation set by Richardson is ideal to make that prospect a reality.

“We’ll have our celebrations and a parade in the next couple of weeks, but when it’s time for the 2018 team to start its season, that’s over,” Richardson said of keeping his young stars focused on the next prize. “We will be back in the weight room on Jan. 8 and there will be no talk about the state championship. We will be doing what we always do: show up and put the work in.”

Linebacker Tanner Ward, one of the few impactful senior starters, soaks in the championship moment.

Despite being somewhat overshadowed by stellar underclassmen, Folsom’s seniors put in plenty of work to make the 2017 championship a reality. Defensive stalwarts like three-year starter Tanner Ward and linemen Cruz Lara, Justin Viega, and Tyler May did the dirty work and led Bulldogs at all levels from all classes as shining examples of what being a Bulldog is all about.

“We have established a tradition as a team and past guys have established a tradition and shown the younger guys through the years how you do things right,” Richardson said. “Kids see guys working hard and succeeding and then coming back when they can, and they want to be like those guys.”

Said Bennett, “Most of our seniors showed up every practice and game like it was their last.”

Richardson believes that his senior class should be recognized for and proud of their accomplishments on the field, but he also pointed to unsung team leaders like senior Cade Posner. Despite recording just 14 tackles in six games, the tight end/linebacker played an important role in Folsom’s championship run.

“He was out there for every practice and every game. He’s one of the best scout team guys we have ever had, and he was an excellent example for all of the players — young or old — that if you show up and work hard, then we will find a role for you and you can help this team.”

With new role players and a year of championship experience for Bulldog headliners such as Bennett and the Ngata brothers, expectations will be higher in 2018 as will the desire for every team on Folsom’s schedule to become legendary giant-slayers. But don’t think for a minute that the Bulldogs are satisfied.

“We, as a team want to raise the bar even more,” Bennett said. “I don’t think that we have played to the highest of our ability yet, and that’s what we are always working for.”

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