SportStars Magazine

De La Salle vs. Folsom: Collision Course

De La Salle Folsom football game

De La Salle And Folsom Will Potentially Play NorCal’s Biggest Football Game Of The Season — On Opening Night • 

From coffee shops to weight rooms, water coolers to dinner tables, there’s one game everyone in Northern California is talking about. This year, for the first time, Folsom High and De La Salle will meet on the gridiron in a regular-season matchup. 

De La Salle, Folsom football game

Joseph Ngata, a 5-star receiver and recent Clemson commit, is one of the many reasons why Folsom could be the first NorCal team in 27 years to beat De La Salle. (James K. Leash photo)

Rarely do two powerhouse programs meet in a season-opener with so much on the line — but that’s all part of their plan. 

“The winner of this game will most likely put themselves in position to play for the Open (Division) state championship,” Folsom coach Kris Richardson stated. “It’s still a long season, but this game will be a great example of the best Northern California football has to offer.”

Winners of six CIF State Bowl titles in the last decade, the Spartans have played in the CIF Open Division finale for nine consecutive years. If they want to reach No. 10, they’ll have to go through the three-time state bowl champs from Folsom. In talks for years, the two storied programs wanted to get a matchup on the books but schedules never lined up — until now. It’ll happen Aug. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in Concord.

“Based on history, it’s definitely one of the biggest games (between two NorCal opponents),” said CalHiSports.com editor Mark Tennis, one of the most respected historians of California high school athletics. “It’s NorCal No. 1 versus No. 2, and it’s Sac-Joaquin vs. Bay Area. … It’s a great chance for De La Salle to get defeated by a NorCal team. Probably one of the best chances for a NorCal team to beat them in six or seven years, maybe.”

When Richardson told his team of this year’s schedule, they were excited for the challenge. For a coach who hails from the Bay Area, Richardson knows the lore that follows the Spartans, and realizes the importance of this game.

 

“Ever since we announced the game, whether on social media or around town, everyone wants to talk about this game,” said Richardson, whose 2014 and 2017 teams went 16-0 and won state bowl titles. “And that’s great. That’s why we wanted to do it. You play a game like this, and it should get everyone excited.”

De La Salle and Folsom have finished in the top two in the final MaxPreps NorCal rankings in five of the last six seasons. The Spartans have appeared in a CIF state championship bowl game for 12 straight years and have dominated Northern California competition. Folsom has 131 wins in the last decade and gone 3-0 in state bowl appearances.

“When you come off a 16-0 undefeated season, and with a majority of the group coming back, you want to find that game that’s going to motivate your guys in the offseason,” Richardson said. “If you’re not motivated to play De La Salle, you probably shouldn’t be playing high school football.”

GAME OF THE YEAR

De La Salle, Folsom football game

De La Salle dominated the first two meetings between the two schools, both regional playoffs in 2012 and 2013. (Phillip Walton photo)

Not since 2011 (Grant-Sacramento vs. Folsom) has a NorCal season-opening matchup received so much hype. The magnitude of that game pales in comparison to this one.

If Folsom were to emerge with a victory, it would become the first NorCal team to defeat the Spartans since Pittsburg did it in the 1991 North Coast Section 3A final. Since that loss, De La Salle has crafted a 291-game unbeaten streak against NorCal teams.

“Whatever that streak is, and I don’t even know what it’s at, but frankly we don’t care,” De La Salle coach Justin Alumbaugh stated. “This game is about challenging our kids. You get an opponent like Folsom, and the preseason schedule that we have, and the kids know what they have to do in the offseason — it makes us better.”

Alumbaugh said he always schedules tough preseason games to prepare for the level of competition his team routinely sees in the playoffs. Folsom falls into that category.

“We were sad to see (the CIF) take away the NorCal Open Division (regional playoff),” Alumbaugh confessed. “I wish they had that game still, in some capacity. Because for us, we want this great opportunity to play a great program (like Folsom). You know, you’ve got a couple of the best programs around, and to not play each other, or even have that chance, sucks.”

De La Salle, Folsom football game

De La Salle coach Justin Alumbaugh begins his sixth season at the helm of the Spartans program. (Chace Bryson photo)

Prior to 2014, Folsom and De La Salle met twice, both times in the CIF regional playoff, both convincing wins for the Spartans (2012 and 2013). 

“(Both of those years, Folsom) went home, but there were teams that they were ranked higher than who continued to play,” Alumbaugh added. “So I think they could bring the Open regional back, but have the loser of that game drop down to their original division and let them compete for a title.”

With this game, both programs chose to take the decision out of CIF’s hands. Undoubtedly, a win over the Spartans would put the Bulldogs in control of their own destiny when it comes to earning their first CIF Open Division Bowl berth.

“Common wisdom is that the winner of this game will play in the CIF Open Division final,” Tennis said. “It’s a credit to Folsom to go for it like this. The more they thought about it, the more they wanted to try and get to the Open Division — and the only way to do that is to go through De La Salle.”

WHEN THE BULLDOGS HAVE THE BALL

Kaiden Bennett, Joseph and Daniyel Ngata, Elijhah Badger, Caleb Nelson and Dylan Jorge form one of the most talented receiving corps and backfields in the state, and Richardson knows how to utilize them. 

De La Salle, Folsom football game

Folsom QB Kaiden Bennett accounted for 73 touchdowns with his arms and legs in 2017. (James K. Leash photo)

Four-receiver sets, motion, end-arounds, screens, the hurry-up offense, crosses, digs, posts, corners, outs, ins and more. It can get dizzying for a defense. 

“This might be the best skill-position group top-to-bottom that we’ve ever had,” Richardson said. “They make big plays when we get them the ball, but it still comes down to protecting the quarterback. If you can’t do that, it doesn’t bode well for your skill guys.”

After amassing 4,431 passing yards and throwing for 57 touchdowns as a junior, Bennett will lead Folsom’s offense into 2018 with even higher expectations. He could be the difference-maker against De La Salle. 

When the teams met previously, the ultra-talented Jake Browning (now about to begin his fourth year starting for the University of Washington) couldn’t get the ball out of his hands quickly enough against the Spartans’ pass rush. Bennett might not be able to do that either, but he can use his legs to create space.

“We faced a lot of good dual-threat quarterbacks last year, and he’s going to be another one,” Alumbaugh said. “He puts a lot of pressure on your defense because first of all, he’s a good quarterback, but when he takes off and runs, he has some good speed.

De La Salle, Folsom football game

De La Salle linebacker Jhasi Wilson is part of a veteran defense that should be the Spartans’ biggest strength early in the season. (Ben Enos photo)

“Browning didn’t take off and run — he pretty much stayed in the pocket. … He was pretty dang good, and there are some similarities; they’re both accurate, smart quarterbacks. They get the ball off on time and they get it to guys who can do something with it. But (Kaiden) is different. They have designed runs for him, so there’s more of a threat and it makes their offense just that much more dynamic.”

The Spartans hope to make Bennett uncomfortable in the pocket with an aggressive rush. They’ll also look to double-cover the Bulldogs’ highly touted receiver, Joseph Ngata. But they won’t be able to do that every play. That means senior cornerbacks Amir Wallace, Taveis Marshall and Grant Daley will have a shot at covering Folsom’s most athletic and explosive playmaker one-on-one. Standout senior linebackers Henry To’oto’o and Jhasi Wilson will be tasked at keeping Daniyel Ngata in check out of the backfield.

Possibly the best defense De La Salle could implement comes from its offense. Control the clock by running the football and keep the ball out of Bennett’s hands.

“We have to find a way to slow that offense down, but the key for us is that we can’t fumble,” Alumbaugh pointed out. “We fumbled the ball all over the place in the last few state championship games. That just killed us. We can’t do that here.”

WHEN THE SPARTANS HAVE THE BALL

Folsom expects the same downhill-running, triple-option threat from De La Salle that they’ve seen before. It worked in 2012 and again in 2013, but the Spartans are willing to mix it up this year. 

“We’re going to throw the ball more than we have in the last couple of years. We have the ability to do that more than we’ve had for probably three years,” Alumbaugh said. “We’re not going to be slinging it around 40 times — we’re still going to be running the triple option, running the veer; we’re still going to try and grind teams out and be more physical, but we’re going to be a little more balanced offensively.”

After rotating quarterbacks a year ago between Erich Storti and Andrew Jones, De La Salle made some changes. Storti will switch to safety this season, and with injuries to Jones, the team will turn to sophomore Dorian Hale to air it out. 

De La Salle, Folsom football game

De La Salle junior Shamar Garrett will play key roles at tailback and defensive back for the Spartans in 2018.

“He played a ton for us last year and he’s pretty gifted,” Alumbaugh said. 

Although the Spartans will rely on To’oto’o at fullback and junior running back Shamar Garrett to carry the load, Hale will have a few weapons to throw to. 

Isaiah Foskey has the size of notable alum and current Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper (who starred in the 2012 win over Folsom), and he has the power to truck a defensive back in open space. Jones and James Coby will get chances to catch a few passes and run the ball. 

Folsom won’t do much to take away the pass come mid-August, but they expect to hold up in the trenches much better this time.

“We’re bigger and stronger up front than we were in those two previous matchups, and we’re a little more experienced in our coaching staff, so hopefully we can take away their bread and butter plays,” Richardson said. 

Although both programs will have scrimmages prior to their game, the teams will surely show some offseason rust. Regardless, the game has every chance to live up to the hype.

“It’s a great challenge, and they’re one of the best programs in the country, year-in and year-out,” Richardson added. “So we need to show up and play our A-game right out of the  gate. And that is a challenge for both teams, because you may think you’re sharp in practice, but you won’t know until you go against live competition.”

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