Folsom and Clayton Valley of Concord, two teams which last played in the CIF state bowl games, went down to the wire in a Friday season opener. The host Bulldogs won 27-26 but it took a touchdown with 1:12 left and it was a far cry from last year’s monster routs.
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As the 2015 teams from Folsom and Clayton Valley of Concord were warming up for their season opener on the blue turf of Folsom’s Prairie City Stadium, it was hard not to think of the last time these two teams were preparing to play a game.
For both the Bulldogs and Ugly Eagles, they each last played on the green grass of the Stub Hub Center in Carson in the CIF state bowl game championships. Folsom was in the Friday Division I game and crushed Oceanside 68-7 to complete a historic 16-0 season. Clayton Valley was in the Saturday Division II game and lost a heart-breaker 34-33 to Redlands East Valley.
In the only other matchup between two teams in a season opener that played in the CIF bowl games to conclude the previous season, De La Salle of Concord (Open champs in 2011) cruised past Bellarmine of San Jose (D1 runner-up in 2011) 41-7 at San Jose City College.
This time, there was no cruising. Folsom (ranked No. 5 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports) actually faced the very real possibility that its 32-game regular season winning streak (longest in the state) was going to be snapped. Still, trailing 26-21 with 2:25 left in the game, the Bulldogs came back for a 27-26 triumph.
“We had a lot of guys who got playing time last season, but this was their first time starting,” said Folsom co-coach Troy Taylor, referring the graduation loss of 19 starting positions, including Mr. Football State Player of the Year Jake Browning. “They still knew how to battle and kept grinding against one of the top teams in Northern California.”
“As you know, that’s one of the best rushing teams in the entire nation,” said Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson. “We didn’t execute well in the first half and we gave up a big TD late, but I loved the way we battled it out with them.”
The game-winning score came on a 19-yard run by junior running back Tre Green with 1:12 left. A 50-yard kickoff return by Christian Huber followed by a 12-yard pass completion by senior quarterback Jake Jeffrey and a 14-yard run by senior running back Roger Neal all came before the score and set it up nicely.
Folsom had nearly taken control of the game on its previous possession. The Bulldogs were leading 21-18 with less than four minutes to play and probably should have scored again but Huber dropped a wide-open pass.
Clayton Valley (which was No. 25 in the Cal-Hi Sports preseason rankings) then got a fourth down stop and took over at the Folsom 12-yard line with 2:30 left. That’s when new Ugly Eagles’ running back Ray Jackson III broke loose down the sidelines and went 84 yards. Huber raced over to make the tackle and prevent the touchdown, but Clayton Valley scored anyway on the next play on a four-yard run by QB Luis Ramos.
After Green’s touchdown and a two-point conversion attempt that failed, the Ugly Eagles still had a chance for the win. They ran out of time outs, however, and with 16 seconds left Jackson was tackled in-bounds on a screen pass at the Folsom 45-yard line. The clock expired without Clayton Valley running another play.
Clayton Valley head coach Tim Murphy told his players afterward that he had “never been so proud of a team with a loss” and that he expected them to be back nearby at Sacramento State for a CIF state bowl game in 15 weeks.
“That’s the goal and this shows we can do it,” he told Cal-Hi Sports. “We obviously hung in there against one of the best teams in the state. The o-line had a great push. And yes, our defensive line did give them problems. Bryce Brand (6-foot-2, 255-pound junior) and Zach Hanson (6-foot-2, 195-pound senior) were outstanding.”
The Ugly Eagles’ offensive line also lost 6-foot-6, 285-pound junior Jalen McKenzie on the second play of the game. McKenzie, who missed all of last season due to eligibility issues but regardless is ranked as one of the top junior offensive line prospects in the state, suffered a torn MCL in his left knee. Murphy said it probably wasn’t an ACL (which would be season-ending), but at the mininum it’s a six-week injury. McKenzie’s father, Oakland Raiders’ general manager Reggie McKenzie, also attended the game.
Green, who scored earlier on two short runs, ended with 13 carries for 89 yards. Neal also caught a 15-yard TD pass and had 42 yards rushing on eight carries. Unofficial Folsom totals also had Jeffrey, the new QB replacing Browning, finishing 17 of 30 for 192 yards with two interceptions and the one TD.
Jackson emerged as a player who could easily be a replacement for graduated all-state running back Miles Harrison. He had 28 carries for 245 yards and one touchdown. Ramos, usually the team’s quarterback, scored three times on short runs and had 23 carries for 94 yards.