SportStars Magazine

Dogged Consistency

Another Year, Another Undefeated League Title For A Folsom Football Team Determined To Reclaim Its Section Throne •

Story by STEVEN WILSON | Photos by JAMES K. LEASH

They’re not known for being a slow-starting team, but Folsom High’s football program fell behind in the first quarter of its Sierra Foothill League title-deciding tilt at Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills on Nov. 3.

The Bulldogs didn’t panic though. They didn’t even flinch as they quickly erased an early 7-0 deficit and exploded for four touchdowns in the second quarter en route to a 42-28 victory, a 10-0 regular season record and another season of unblemished football in league play.

Folsom’s dual-threat quarterback Kaiden Bennett contributed on all four of those scores as he tossed a 14-yard TD on a screen pass to Daniyel Ngata to tie the game at 7-7, before running in a pair of scores and finding Joseph Ngata for an impressive 21-yard catch on the end zone’s boundary just before the half.

Bennett added another touchdown, his second of the night to Joe Ngata, as the Bulldogs raced to a three-score lead early in the second half and put the game out of reach.

Kaiden Bennett rushes upfield during a September win over Jesuit-Carmichael.

Bennett has now accounted for 43 total touchdowns this season, and his coach says he’s still improving.

“You have to keep in mind that he’s only a junior, and this was only his tenth varsity start,” Folsom’s Kris Richardson said after the regular season finale. “So he continues to become a better player … I think he threw the ball extremely well (tonight), he may have overthrown a few passes, but that happens when you play in an emotional game like this.

“So I don’t know his numbers from tonight, but I know he’s the best quarterback in the area.”

Richardson added that he’s watched tape on most of the area’s big-armed quarterbacks and would take his junior signal caller over all of them.

“People are tired of hearing that, but it’s true,” Richardson said. “He’s not like some of the other great quarterbacks we’ve had here. He’s creating his own history as Kaiden Bennett.”

Folsom’s longtime coach has catered the Bulldogs’ high-powered offense to fit Bennett’s skills.

The junior has one or two reads in the passing game before he’s asked to make something happen on his own. And his receivers follow that lead. They constantly break off routes when Bennett goes into scramble mode to create big plays.

“Our skill guys are as good as anybody out there,” Richardson added. “The physical specimen that Joe Ngata is simply doesn’t come around very often. Sure, we’ve had some incredible guys play here, but Joe is a 6-4, 215-pound freak. He’s an incredible competitor and great teammate.”

Ngata showcased that freak ability on his 26-yard, second-half touchdown as he hurdled a defender and broke two tackles en route to the end zone after catching a five-yard out.

“I was just trying to do something crazy,” Ngata admitted. “I was just trying to make a play.”

Meanwhile, Oak Ridge struggled to produce consistent drives on offense despite a strong start.

Junior Joe Ngata finished the regular season with more than 1,000 yards receiving and 13 TD.

Trojans star quarterback Marco Baldachinno registered the first score of the game on a play-action pass to Austin Jarrad, who was wide open for a 21-yard touchdown.

“Once we got that, I knew we needed to get another stop, and I knew we needed to get another score, but that’s not the way it happened,” Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere stated. “We came out after that first score and had terrible field position. They pinned us deep on a kickoff, so credit to them, but then we made a mistake or two and had to punt and shanked a pair of them and they capitalized on it. Two quick scores and all of a sudden we were in a hole.”

Folsom began its next three drives at the Oak Ridge 23-yard line, the Folsom 48 and the Oak Ridge 21 and soon led 28-7.

The Trojans needed a strong second half, and once again had a good start. Baldachinno hit Jarrad again — this time for a 61-yard touchdown— to open the third quarter, but Folsom answered right back with Ngata’s big touchdown.

Despite the Ngata brothers and Bennett’s big night, the game’s most impressive play came from a lineman.

Caleb Freeland picked up an Oak Ridge fumble near midfield in the third quarter and rumbled 46 yards to the house thanks to a convoy of blockers.

“I just saw the ball on the field, and I didn’t want to mess it up,” Freeland admitted.

As he scampered toward the end zone, Freeland drew on his experience as a Ponderosa High fullback from his junior varsity days.

“There was a thought to just dive on it, but I have never scooped and scored before, so I knew I needed to try and do that,” Freeland said. “It was probably only 60 yards, but it felt like 130.”

The score gave Folsom a 42-14 lead and the Bulldogs started rotating in their reserves.

VIDEO: Click the image to see postgame interviews with Kaiden Bennett and Joe Ngata following Folsom’s SFL title victory.

The Trojans added a pair of late scores, but the game was out of reach and Baldachinno sat the final possession for Oak Ridge. Cavaliere stated Baldachinno could have gone back in the game but that they elected to play it safe instead, to ensure his health for the playoffs.

“This is becoming a good rivalry and we hope to see them again; we have to win one of these sometime soon, to make this a potentially (better) rivalry, but this has been a great showdown for a few years,” Cavaliere admitted. “They really bring out the best in us and I know they play their best against us.”

The victory secured Folsom’s fourth SFL title since joining the league in 2014, and a sixth-straight undefeated league championship. The Bulldogs league winning streak — which includes a pair of seasons in the now-defunct Delta River League — stands at 35 games. The team’s last league loss was a DRL defeat to Pleasant Grove-Elk Grove on Oct. 28, 2011.

“This was everything that we’ve been working for,” Bennett said. “We still want to go farther, but the SFL championship was one of our goals on the list, so it feels good to get that checked off.”

The Bulldogs earned the No. 1 seed for the Division I section playoffs while Oak Ridge predictably wound up being the No. 2 seed.

“I believe we should be the No. 2 seed,” Cavaliere said prior to the brackets being released. “We’re just behind Folsom for strength of schedule and we’re ranked second on any rankings list around, so we should still be there after this weekend.”

Regardless of seeds, both coaches realize these two teams could be the final two squads competing for a title in a few weeks, and the potential rematch should provide even more sparks.

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