A 45-17 win often is about offense, but when it’s about shutting down the prolific offense of Folsom then it’s the defense of state No. 1 De La Salle that took center stage in the Spartans’ win for the CIF Northern California Open Division bowl game title.
Entering the Saturday night contest at Diablo Valley College (which was plenty big enough to be a host site), Folsom’s offense was averaging more than 51 points per game behind record-setting junior quarterback Jake Browning, who had thrown for 74 touchdowns.
In this game, Browning didn’t get his 75th TD pass until there were 48 seconds left to play and it came against the Spartans’ second string. He also was intercepted three times, matching the total he had in last year’s 49-15 victory by De La Salle.
The key for the Spartan defense, which has been orchestrated so brilliantly for so many years by defensive coordinator Terry Eidson, is that it was able to get some pressure on Browning while only rushing three or four players. This enables seven or eight to drop back into Folsom’s throwing lanes. The Spartans also didn’t let Folsom’s receivers go anywhere after making a catch.
“It felt similar to last year because we wanted to make them drive the field,” said De La Salle head coach Justin Alumbaugh. “We also wanted to control the ball on offense.”
De La Salle improved to 14-0 with the win and advanced into next Saturday’s CIF Open Division state bowl final where it will face 15-0 St. John Bosco of Bellflower. The teams are generally both ranked in the top five or top six of all major national rankings, making the matchup the best one so far since the CIF bowl games began in 2006.
Folsom was stopped on downs at the Spartans’ 35-yard line on its first series of the game. De La Salle then drove 65 yards on eight plays in its first possession, scoring on a 12-yard run by quarterback Chris Williams.
After the Bulldogs cut the lead to 7-3 later in the first quarter on a 27-yard field goal by Ben Trumm, De La Salle began to take over. First game a 50-yard bomb from Williams to track star Marquise Morris to set up a 1-yard plunge by John Velasco. Then after a fumbled kickoff, the Spartans scored again on a 7-yard burst by Velasco.
It was 19-3 at halftime and if Folsom was going to get back into the game it would have to stop the Spartans on their first series of the third quarter. It didn’t happen. Sophomore Antoine Custer raced for a 53-yard run to the 6-yard line, which was followed by yet another TD by Velasco.
Later in the third quarter, as Folsom was driving over midfield, Browning was intercepted by senior linebacker David Ortega who ran it all the way down to the 2-yard line. That setup the fourth TD by Velasco and put the game out of reach even for an offense as good as Folsom’s.
There were some negatives lost in all the positives for De La Salle. The team lost the ball three times on fumbles, missed on five straight PAT or conversion attempts and had a poor snap cause a missed field goal.
“Velasco is always running so hard, trying to get extra yards so for that to pop out can happen,” Alumbaugh said. “One of our fumbles should never happen, though. We’ve got to clean up some of that stuff.”
According to statistics from the Contra Costa Times, Velasco finished with 144 yards rushing and four scores. Custer didn’t get into the end zone but he had 149 yards. Browning completed 38 of 53 passes for 336 yards with one TD and three interceptions.
As for playing St. John Bosco next week, Alumbaugh knows it will be a simple plan.
“We’ll be playing a great team down there and we’re going to have to really be physical,” he said. “We’ve also really, really got to play a clean game.”