Explosive Bulldogs make their home crowd happy with 49-42 victory over Helix of La Mesa in CIF Division 1-AA state final to win their program’s third CIF state crown. They won with a lineup of numerous underclass standouts, which begs the question whether they’ll aim even higher next season. In Friday’s other CIF state final played at Sacramento State, Serra of San Mateo captures its first state championship by surging past Cajon of San Bernardino 38-14 in Division 2-AA title game. Go inside for details and to see who we named as MVP for each game.
Note: Look for the final State Top 50 set of football rankings that won’t simply be a list next week. We’ll have insights and breakdowns based on more than 40 years of going to Friday night games with an overview of the state’s top teams and what’s coming up for next season that just can’t be matched. .
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(Thanks to contributing writer Paul Muyskens for the Serra-Cajon writeup)
When it was announced in 2014 that Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium would be the host site of the CIF state football championships for the 2015-2017 seasons, many thought that it would be a big benefit to the highly successful program at Folsom High, which is just up the road on Highway 50 from Sacramento State.
The Bulldogs, who went 16-0 and won the CIF Division I state title in 2014 with a 68-7 win over Oceanside, didn’t get to Hornet Stadium for the state finals in 2015 due to a regional loss to San Jose Bellarmine and didn’t get there last year due a loss to St. Mary’s of Stockton in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section championship.
Folsom 2017, however, not only earned a trip for the state finals at Sac State but the Bulldogs took full advantage of it with a 49-42 triumph over Helix of La Mesa. THey fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter, scored 28 straight points after that and in the second half held off the CIF San Diego Section Open Division champions, who kept scoring and kept putting pressure on Folsom to keep scoring.
The Bulldogs matched their legendary 2014 team’s 16-0 record, wrapped up a probable No. 5 final state ranking and won the program’s third CIF state title. The first came in 2010 led by scrappy, fearless quarterback Dano Graves in Division II while the second came in Division I in 2014 with national record-breaking quarterback Jake Browning (now shining at the University of Washington).
“Yes, I think so,” said Folsom head coach Kris Richardson when asked if he thought the Bulldogs over-achieved this year because they had so many juniors and sophomores in starring roles. “I knew we’d compete for the section title. It always starts with that. The important thing is that week in and week out they did the hard work and kept getting better. You couldn’t ask for 16-0, but they deserve it.”
One of those in a starring role, junior quarterback Kaiden Bennett, who is more like Graves and less like Browning in that he runs the ball more frequently, had one of his best outings of the season against Helix. He completed 21 of 32 passes for 327 yards and four touchdowns and rushed 14 times for 147 yards and two scores.
“Yeah, of course we thought 16-0 was possible,” Bennett said. “We just trained to hard going way back. We knew what we were capable of.”
Helix, which came into the game at No. 7 in the Cal-Hi Sports state rankings and finished 13-2 after getting big wins in its two previous games against previously unbeaten Mission Hills (San Marcos) and CIF Southern Section Division 2 champion Oaks Christian of Westlake Village, built its early lead after a tipped pass interception by Robert Hunter set up the first touchdown and then there was a 73-yard bomb from Carson Baker to Isaiah Wooden.
Folsom didn’t wait long to answer Wooden’s big play on the next play of its own when Bennett slipped a pass into the flat to sophomore Elijah Badger, who at first appeared to be stopped by two Helix defenders but then broke their grasp and raced for a 70-yard score. Badger ended with four catches for 102 yards.
For the rest of the first half, the Folsom defense came up with plays to stop the Helix offense. The Helix defense couldn’t do the same. The Bulldogs scored on three of their next four possessions to take a 28-14 lead and it could have been 31-14 at halftime but they missed a field goal with one second left in the first half. Bennett threw a 49-yard TD pass to Joe Ngata (5 catches, 98 yards) that tied the score at 14-14 and then had a shorter TD pass (4 yards) to C.J. Hutton before his own 32-yard TD run.
In the second half, it was a different story. Helix got the ball first and scored on its first series to quickly cut the deficit to 28-21. Baker this time threw a 47-yard TD pass to Rashad Scott. The Highlanders continued to force the Folsom offense to answer and scored on three of its next four possessions. They scored on a 7-yard run by Isaac Taylor-Stuart, an 8-yard run by Baker and then with 1:06 left in the game Baker threw a 3-yard TD pass to Terrance McIntyre.
“I’m just sad it’s over,” said Baker, who ended 19 of 31 passes for 322 yards and three TDs. “This just shows we don’t quit. We went hard until the final minute.”
Baker’s last scoring pass put Folsom in the position of having to recover an onside kick to prevent Helix from having one last chance to tie or win the game. Parker Clayton latched onto that kick just an instant before getting hit hard by a pair of Helix players.
Wooden continued to make plays for the Highlanders after that first huge TD catch and had seven catches in the game for 172 yards. Sophomore Elelyon Noa also continued his late season surge as a powerful ball carrier and had 28 carries for 130 yards.
With so many top players like Bennett, the two Ngata brothers (Daniyel became Folsom’s top running back in the later stages of the season) and Badger all returning next season, the plan of trying to aim for the Open Division berth at the CIF state finals has already been discussed.
“We want to play a big-time game for Week Zero,” Richardson told Cal-Hi Sports. “We are trying. We called De La Salle (Concord) and it probably will not work. We’ll do what we can to find someone. Maybe you can help.”
The players just know they’re going to be very good.
“We always want to play the best,” Bennett said. “We’ll go anywhere, play anyone. But anywhere we do go is okay. Where we’re at right now is okay.”
Well, at 16-0 and with a CIF Division 1-AA state title, it’s more than okay.
MVP: Kaiden Bennett (Folsom)
An obvious choice for this game, Bennett passed for 327 yards and four TDs and rushed for 147 yards and two other scores. For the season in 16 games, the 6-foot, 170-pounder racked up 4,436 yards passing and 57 TDs and he rushed for 1,226 yards and 16 scores.
Serra breaks through for WCAL & CCS
but this was more about themselves
In what was expected to be an offensive filled game, it was instead the defense and turnovers that played a huge impact as Serra of San Mateo (13-2) defeated Cajon of San Bernardino (14-2) 38-14 in the first of five games over two days at Sacramento State.
“I would call that a defensive masterpiece, a defensive masterpiece for the ages,” said Padres’ head coach Patrick Walsh after his team captured its first state championship in program history.
On a night when the Serra defense came up with three turnovers and seven sacks of dual-threat quarterback Jayden Daniels, Walsh’s team also showed it may be better than the No. 23 state ranking it had coming into the contest.
In a turnover-filled first half, it was the Padres’ defense that forced the first turnover as they put a big hit on the Cowboys’ quarterback and recovered the fumble at their own 26-yard line. Just two plays prior, it looked like the Cowboys were headed for six points on their first drive before a touchdown-saving tackle by Malakai Rango brought down Joseph Yarber on the 11-yard line after a 39-yard run.
“The Serra defense we are known for starting slow so when we started slowly that was nothing new,” said Edmond Lahlouh, who led the defense with 14 tackles. “We just knew we gotta bounce back and we got the turnover two plays later and the rest is history. We came up two points short last year and this is just amazing to come back and win it all this year.”
Getting their first chance on offense, Serra went on a 10-play, 74-yard drive that ended with a well-executed screen pass from Luke Bottari to Isiah Kendrick as he went untouched into the end zone for the 14-yard touchdown. Following up a goal-line stop midway through the second quarter, the Padres doubled their advantage by going 93 plays in seven plays with Kendrick catching a 41-yard pass on the drive before scoring on a two-yard run.
A week after scoring 50 points in the first half of their 70-23 win over Rancho Verde of Moreno Valley in the CIF SoCal D2-AA final, Cajon was nearly held scoreless in the opening half before a 48-yard touchdown pass from Daniels to Darren Jones on the final play of the first half.
Turning the ball over three times and sacked six times, the Cowboys faced a potential three-score deficit at halftime before getting a big interception by Rodeny Robinson at their own 10-yard line. That play prevented Serra from building the lead even more and his return set up Cajon for the possibility it could score. Three plays later, it was 6-foot-8 junior wide receiver Jones going up and making the catch in the end zone with four Padres’ defenders trying unsuccessfully to make a play on the football.
Jones ended the day with nine catches for 127 yards and a touchdown and finished the season with 101 receptions for 2,089 yards and 28 touchdowns. Both the yardage and TD totals will be in the state record book.
With their lead cut back to one score, the Padres took the opening series of the second half and quickly drove it down the field before another turnover. On that one, Kamron Forest recovered for Cajon on the 1-yard line.
Starting from that spot, the Cowboys went on the longest drive of the night, a 99-yard march in 15 plays that took over six minutes off the clock. The scoring drive included a fourth and five conversion from their own 35 converted with an 8-yard run by quarterback Daniels and a big pass play to Jones before Daniels would rush it nearly untouched on a third and goal from the six-yard line.
With their two-score lead gone, the Padres would get the momentum right back with a Malakai Rango 72-yard kickoff return down to the 3-yard line and two plays later David Coker scored on a one-yard run to put the Padres back in front.
Once again, Cajon went for it on fourth down on its own side of midfield on its next series but this time the Padres’ defense made the stop inches short of a first down to get the ball on Cajon’s 45-yard line. Seven plays later, it was Kendrick with his third touchdown run on the night as he went in from two yards out. Getting another fourth down stop on Cajon’s next series, the Padres made it a three-score game with 6:08 remaining as Damon Lewis kicked a 39-yard field goal.
Kendrick added a fourth touchdown in the final minutes to cap off his night with 110 yards and three touchdowns rushing while catching four passes for 70 yards and a score. Coker also rushed for over 100 yards as he rushed for a game-high 140 yards and a score.
“We just came out here and didn’t execute,” said Daniels, who passed for 340 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 73 yards and a score. “We didn’t come ready. It was the turnovers and they just made more plays than we did.”
When asked what he would remember about this season, Daniels responded: “Just playing with all my brothers. We won CIF (Southern Section) for the first time in 30 years and then we won a regional game to get here. We knew it was going to be a tough game.”
Cajon finished 14-2 and probably will end somewhere between No. 30 and No. 25 in the final state rankings. The Cowboys were No. 25 coming into the game.
“I call this the team of never,” said Walsh after the game. “We’ve never won 13 games in a season and now we’ve erased kinda the big dog with we’ve never won a state championship and that’s now gone.”
MVP: Edmond Lahlouh (Serra)
A tough call for sure, but we decided that Serra’s defense was really a bit more of a key to the win than offense after the Padres held Cajon to a season-low (by far) of 14 points. Lahlouh was the leader of that unit on this night with 14 tackles (four for loss) and he had 2.5 sacks. Lahlouh also was effective on offense with six carries for 62 yards rushing and he was a battering ram blocker when Serra went to its double-wing formation.
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