On back-to-back nights, we checked out the top two-ranked teams in Northern California. It’s going to be nearly impossible for No. 2 Folsom to be able to wrest the region’s No. 1 ranking away from De La Salle of Concord but the Bulldogs are clearly closer to the elite level of the Spartans than they were last year.
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Jake Browning, the state record breaking quarterback from Folsom, refuses to ever watch the De La Salle of Concord-based movie “When The Game Stands Tall.”
Browning also isn’t yet interested in thinking about any scenarios involving the CIF Northern California Open Division bowl bid even though the CIF’s decision not to have a NorCal Open Division game this year probably means that the Bulldogs won’t get a third chance to perhaps beat De La Salle.
“It’ just way too early for that,” he said while walking off the field after his team pinned a 63-0 loss on Granite Bay last Friday night at Prairie City Stadium. “We haven’t even played Del Oro (Loomis) yet and haven’t even made the playoffs.”That type of thinking makes sense, but looking ahead and going over various scenarios is one of the things we do best at Cal-Hi Sports. That’s why last weekend we had to jump at the chance to see Folsom and De La Salle on back-to-back nights.
The Bulldogs easily dispatched Granite Bay, which is not close to the level it was two years ago when it ended up winning the CIF Division I state bowl game. De La Salle’s matchup the next night against Servite of Anaheim (another of the state’s top teams) was more of a test and although the Friars were in it until the third quarter it was another Spartan win, this time 47-24.
Going by history, it’s easy to see De La Salle winning the rest of its regular season games, then another CIF North Coast Section Division I title. Folsom hasn’t rolled as easily in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs (the Bulldogs lost in the D2 final in 2011 to Vacaville) but based on results so far it’s hard to envision the team not dominating in the Division I section playoffs this time around for the third straight year.
Those two teams would then be on the board for the NorCal Open Division bowl berth and it would be equally shocking if De La Salle wasn’t selected. The Spartans beat Browning and the Bulldogs easily in the NorCal D1 bowl game the last two years — 49-15 and 45-17 – and there’s just no other way to look at it.
Still, in watching the two teams, Folsom is closer to that elite level that De La Salle seems to reach just about every season. Here’s a position by position breakdown:
Quarterback – Browning did not get bigger or stronger or faster than he was as a junior, but his throws might even be better. His stats also will be better because the Folsom defense is going to get the Folsom offense the ball back much faster and Folsom’s receiving corps as a group is perhaps its best yet. Anthony Sweeney missed the first two games for De La Salle, but started by the Byrnes game and has been outstanding running the veer option offense. He also provides an explosiveness as a runner that has been lacking the last few seasons. EDGE: Folsom.
Running Backs – While Folsom’s Bryan Welty and Tre Green got more carries against Granite Bay and looked good at times on sweeps, the De La Salle duo of Antoine Custer and Andrew Hernandez has a chance to be one of the best combos the school has ever had. Both are juniors and both already can break that initial tackle and take the play to the end zone. Custer should be one of the state’s top running back recruits next season. EDGE: De La Salle.
Receivers – If anybody thought the graduation loss of Troy Knox was going to seriously damage the Folsom passing game, boy was that wrong. Cole Thompson has stepped into a starring role immediately, especially as teams in the early going seemed to spend a lot of resources on returnee Josiah Deguara (104 catches, 16 TDs last season). Jake Jeffrey, Jake Morgado and Parker Boone also can win balls in favorable matchups. Folsom doesn’t have a tight end, however, like Devin Asiasi of De La Salle. The Spartans also are still developing plays for speedster Jonathan Harvey and Adam Mayer’s return at receiver after an injury last year has been a big plus. EDGE: Folsom.
Offensive Line – While Folsom still has three-year starter and Arizona commit Cody Creason anchoring its unit, the DLS offensive line is still as a unit hard to beat. Drew Sullivan (6-3, 320) plays at the same level as Creason and is most definitely a Pac 12 level recruit. Meanwhile, Boss Tagaloa (6-3, 300) might end up as one of the best offensive linemen next year in the nation. Seniors Blake Ogburn (6-3, 230) and Matt Medeiros (6-0, 235) also are effective. There’s just not a weak spot in the group. EDGE: De La Salle.
Defensive Line – This is one area in which Folsom is clearly closer to De La Salle’s level. If Kahlil McKenzie had not transferred to Clayton Valley, DLS would still have perhaps the top defensive line anywhere. But McKenzie is gone and it’s not as clear-cut. When we watched Folsom last Friday, the Bulldogs were still without 6-5, 275-pound Jonah Williams (out with a foot/ankle injury). Both Sam Whitney at one defensive end and Lukas Hendricks on the other side, however, both made plays and both are among the best in the SJS. Against Byrnes earlier in the season, De La Salle didn’t use Drew Sullivan at nose guard as much as it did against Servite. Asiasi at one defensive end, however, is simply a beast. A big-time D1 prospect for sure. Damon Wiley and Bumpy McGee also made plays for the DLS defensive line in both games as well. EDGE: De La Salle (but it might be even or Folsom slight edge once Jonah Williams comes back).
Linebackers – Injuries play a role in this comparison as well. For De La Salle, Northwestern-bound Simba Short had a shoulder injury in the first scrimmage and was limping after the Servite game. With Short and runningmate Cameron Lissarrague both operating at full speed, it’s a group that still isn’t as good as other DLS linebacking units of recent years but remains among the best in the state. For Folsom, it was great to see three-year starter Bailey Laolagi (6-2, 230) running around and making plays after he suffered a knee injury at the end of last season (he didn’t play in the bowl game). Laolagi should get D1 offers. Sam Whittingham was another effective defender for the Bulldogs. EDGE: De La Salle (but it’s closer than last year).
Defensive Backs – Folsom has made strides on this unit as well with a collection of tall, physical players who can all make plays on the ball in the air. De La Salle has a better DB than anyone Folsom has, however, in Je’Vari Anderson. He’s a 195-pound battering ram who also has been explosive returning kicks. EDGE: De La Salle.
Special Teams – Both kickers, Jordan Rodriguez for the Spartans and Troy Calderara for the Bulldogs, can equally get the job done on field goals and PATs. Calderara also is a name to watch for the state record book since he’s a sophomore and could get to kick more than 100 PATs in each of the next three seasons. The De La Salle return game, however, is always dangerous and remains so this year with Je’Vari Anderson. EDGE: De La Salle.
In summary, it is too bad these two teams won’t play at the end of the season. Folsom, in fact, could be one of the best teams ever in Northern California history but unfortunately will most likely not get to prove it. As of now, Folsom going 16-0 and winning the CIF Division I state title with De La Salle playing the CIFSS Pac-Five champion in the CIF Open Division bowl game seems like a very good bet.