Friday Finals: Serra, Folsom win

Kaiden Bennett (left) looks to throw a pass for Folsom during CIF D1-AA state final vs. Helix while Isiah Kendrick (right) has just scored for Serra of San Mateo in CIF D2-AA state final vs. Cajon of San Bernardino. Photos: Willie Eashman.

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.

Folsom head coach Kris RIchardson holds CIF state title plaque and puts up three fingers since this is the third one the Bulldogs have won since 2010. Photo: Mark Tennis.

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.

Elijah Badger takes a peek at Helix of La Mesa defenders pursuing him as he’s about to score Folsom’s first touchdown. Photo: Willie Eashman.

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 players gather for a photo while holding CIF D2-AA state championship trophy. Photo: Willie Eashman.

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.”

Serra head coach Patrick Walsh had his son, Charlie, with him in final moments of CIF D2-AA state final. Charlie wore a Star Wars themed outfit and was in bare feet. He couldn’t see the new Star Wars movie on opening day, but we’re pretty sure he’ll remember the night for the rest of his life. Photo: Mark Tennis.

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.

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle:

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  1. DB
    Posted December 16, 2017 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    It is strange that most of so cal’s top teams do not participate in these so called “state bowl games” yet every top team from the north does. It is patently unfair for the Pac5 to pit so cal’s best teams in one playoff bracket where only the champion is allowed to participate in state bowls when the north does not do the same. Either the north needs to have a Pac5 type of playoff bracket where DLS, Folson, Serra etc all play in it or the Pac5 should be allowed up to 3 teams to be voted in if the committee sees fit.

    • Fumble
      Posted December 16, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      So true. Not the kids fault because they play the kids in front of them but Folsom’s true equal would be a Centennial or Mission Viejo who will have a tough time getting there with the current Southern Section D1 competitive equity rules.

      • phil60
        Posted December 16, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

        The SS is doing a disservice to their own members. Simply change the name of the D1 to Open, which it is anyway, and at least let their runner-up go on to 1-AA, like some other sections in the north. That way at least someone else besides the champion also has a chance. The outrageous strength of the SS D1 only warrants this. Next year we will see either a very strong Folsom in the 1-AA or De La Salle. Good luck with that one.

        • Cal 14
          Posted December 19, 2017 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

          It’s not as easy as simply calling D-I and “Open” division. It would mean forcing another division’s champion to not advance. That gets political.

    • Erik Duncan
      Posted December 16, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      At least allow the runner up to be eligible.

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted December 17, 2017 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      It’s not correct that “every top team from the north” is in a bowl game. St. Mary’s of Stockton, Valley Christian and San Ramon Valley and Liberty of Brentwood would be examples. No one is saying that’s even close to SSD1, but those and others would surely be a top team from the north. I talk to CIFSS folks all the time and their biggest complaint isn’t about their D1 teams not playing but they aren’t happy at all of the CCS Open teams that are in it. They like my suggestion that at least two of those teams should be playing each other.

      • DB
        Posted December 17, 2017 at 10:26 am | Permalink

        Would you rate Serra, Folsom, Pittsburgh and DLS as the top 3 teams in norcal? If so, to say that every top team plays in a separate playoff bracket is factually accurate. Those other teams you listed are not perennial powers. My point is that the north brackets allow for their best teams to advance to state but in the south every top team plays in one super bracket so 3-5 teams better than those listed above are shut out. To deny that as fact is simply burying head in proverbial sand. Either the north needs to also have a super bracket or CIFSS should allow 2 teams into the state bowl. SJ Bosco would beat a team like Helix by 30 and Corona Centennial or Mission V would as well. The best teams from the south are not allowed to play.

        • Mark Tennis
          Posted December 18, 2017 at 11:06 am | Permalink

          St. Mary’s beat Serra 41-16 so you can argue they were better but why do we need to have a game where Mater Dei last year or Bosco this year just slaughters another team? Everybody pretty much knows that’s the case, even in the north. And the CIFSS actually wants to continue to promote its D1 bracket the way it does due to TV contracts, etc. They want their event to continue to be as prestigious as possible.

    • Cal 14
      Posted December 19, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      This is effectively what you’re asking for…

      You wake up in the morning and decide to shot your foot off with a shotgun, then go outside and complain to your neighbors that they haven’t similar shot their feet off.

      The SS did this to themselves. It’s not the fault of the CCS or NCS that they chose to do that.

      The north doesn’t have to do squat.

      You need to stop complaining ’cause it’s simply not going to change anything.

  2. David Murillo
    Posted December 16, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Someone is looking for you Folsom

    Bosco Football
    Bosco Football
    Friday, August 17th, 2018…..
    eric sondheimer
    If anyone talks to the Folsom coach, tell him St. John Bosco would be happy to host them at their new stadium in 2018 if they’re looking for a nonleague game.

  3. Fumble
    Posted December 16, 2017 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    If WCAL is considered the best league in Northen CA, why do they have multiple teams playing in low divisions against smaller schools? Mark is right they need to play each other for the opp. to play in higher divisions.

    • Jae
      Posted December 17, 2017 at 1:01 am | Permalink

      I say this by no means to discount the WCAL as they are a very tough conference and one of the toughest in nor cal but i am pretty certain the SFL is widely considered toughest in nor cal and 2nd in the state to SSD1…which is clearly one of toughest in nation…but i would like to see WCAL get more exposure to state bowl games..they are a very solid division with typcally well known strong teams

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted December 17, 2017 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      We’re just lucky that Bellarmine wasn’t that good this year because they might have had them in it as well. Been told the CCS will probably have a new format for its open division next year so that some of these situations won’t continue.

      • Cal 14
        Posted December 19, 2017 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        I saw the preview of what is being considered in the CCS and it’s pretty lame. It answers a question that nobody asked. It also has the side-effect of possibly allowing *more* WCAL teams to advance, not fewer.

    • Cal 14
      Posted December 19, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Serra lost a 7-point game to Pittsburg earlier in the year. That caused a cascade of putting CCS teams probably one division lower than where they normally should have been.

      Either way, there were 6 teams for 5 slots in the top 3 divisions. If it wasn’t Serra in 2AA, it would have been Pittsburg, Granite Bay, or Fresno Central… but, the result over Cajon would probably have been similar.

  4. Jeff
    Posted December 17, 2017 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    It is not about the highest ranked teams all playing for a state championship. If that were the guideline then it’s simple, take the top 13 from the south and match them with the top 13 from the north.

    Obviously, that is not the case nor the intention of the CIF. The new system qualifies a team for winning their section championship and then takes several runner-ups. This is where I have a huge problem with the CIF leaving this up to the individual sections. It is garbage that Milpitas, Saint Francis and Pittsburg all lost their section championship games and still were able to play for a state championship. In what playoff system, at any level, allows a team that loses in one playoff bracket to continue on to the next round?

    The CIF should be ashamed of itself for allowing this to happen with the NCS and the CCS. In a way, you can’t fault the individual sections for taking advantage of a loop hole within the CIF’s playoff structure, but the CIF shouldn’t allow this to happen. The SS has a lot of integrity and deserves a lot of respect for setting up their open playoffs the way they do.

    If a team loses in playoffs then their season should be over. They should not be rewarded with a lower division state game because of their loss. This brings the integrity of the State Bowl Games into question!

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted December 18, 2017 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      The CCS system does work the format to its advantage, but you might feel differently if you’re from a school like Pitt, which is actually the first NCS runner-up to ever get a chance to play for a state title after having to play and lose to De La Salle in the section final.

      • Jeff
        Posted December 18, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        Ask Liberty how they feel about winning the D1 Section Championship and being left out!

        • Mark Tennis
          Posted December 18, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

          Pitt beat Liberty and Liberty knew before the playoffs started what the situation was regarding its division.

          • Jeff
            Posted December 18, 2017 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

            I understand what you are saying Mark and I still disagree. Pittsburg was in a different playoff division than Liberty and lost their game. It doesn’t matter who they lost to in the playoffs or who they beat during the regular season, their season should have been over. The fact that Liberty knew doesn’t make it right either.

            I have a lot of respect for the sections that only send their section champions to a bowl game. Imagine if the SS and the SDS took advantage like the CCS and the NCS. How many games would the north be able to compete in? How many smaller schools would miss out on a state championship experience?

            Please give me one example of any sport, at any level, outside of the CIF, that allows a team to lose a playoff game and still advance over someone who won all of their playoff games.

            There are divisions for a reason! In most cases, the top teams from any division should be able to beat the teams from the division below them.

            I just don’t believe that a section runner-up can be a true state champion with a loss in the playoffs. It is pure manipulation on the part of the section.

            I have followed you for years Mark and really enjoy the content of your website. It is full of great content. Thank you for providing a forum to share ideas and arguments!

          • Cal 14
            Posted December 19, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink


            Teams lose in post-season games and advance in other sports all the time. You’re just not used to seeing it in football, due to the logisitics of needing to keep the number of games to a minimum. Oklahoma got slaughtered in the 2003 Big 12 championship game, 35-7, but still advanced to the BCS national title game.

            The sectional playoffs are not incorporated into a huge state-wide single-elimination bracket. It’s about qualifying for the state games, which is what each team does.

            Furthermore, the CCS system is just as much about how the section is setup as it is for the bowl games. The CCS has a similar problem as the SS. It has a large number of very good private schools with smaller enrollments. The small public schools had been clamoring for a change for years so that they didn’t have to face those private schools in the playoffs. The system that was developed was a compromise for those smaller/weaker public schools. It actually works pretty well if you get over your preconceived notions about how playoffs work.

          • Jeff
            Posted December 19, 2017 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

            Maybe its time to start talking about a private school bracket and a public school bracket!

        • Cal 14
          Posted December 19, 2017 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

          The only reason Liberty won D-I was because the Open teams were not in their division. Pitt beat them 35-0. That wasn’t going to get any easier if they had to play DLS instead in the playoffs.

          • Jeff
            Posted December 19, 2017 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

            That is true and part of my point. There are different divisions for a reason. A team in a D1 bracket most likely would not do well against the teams placed in the open division. Moot point!

    • Fumble
      Posted December 19, 2017 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      Put it this way, instead of a sixteen team winner take all section in SSD1 they spread out their best teams in 2 eight team “open’ sections where the Winner and Runner-Up roll on to State Games. Mater Dei to Open, SJB plays for D!-AA, Centenniel plays for D!-A and Mission Viejo plays for D2-AA. How would that go? That is how CCS is gaming the system…

      • Jeff
        Posted December 19, 2017 at 3:32 pm | Permalink


      • Cal 14
        Posted December 20, 2017 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

        Not correct in any way.

        The CCS system is in response to an internal issue much more than with the bowls. Much like in the SS, there are a number of powerful, mid- or small-sized private schools that have traditionally beaten up on the public schools, especially those in the lower leagues.

        The CCS’s response was to tell these teams from the lower leagues “Ok, fine. We’ll pull you out of the playoff brackets with the private schools, but in exchange you can’t play for state bowl advancement.” Those schools agreed. That’s why only the top leagues play in the three Open divisions and the lower leagues play in the two non-Open divisions. The two runners-up take the place of the teams that no longer wanted to compete against the private schools.

        Keep in mind that the concept of an “Open Division” originated in the CCS. Prior to two years ago, all of the top teams in the section did compete in their Open Division. That was great for determining a true section champ, but the landscape changed with the bowl games. This tougher Open Division should have given the section the upper hand when teams were selected for advancement. It didn’t. Furthermore, small public schools (enrollment of 1000-1200) would have big years, only to be eliminated by state-level private schools with 1400 students. So, what’s the incentive? Does the SS put powerful small public schools up against the Trinity or Mission League teams in the playoffs? No, they don’t!

        Aside from that, it’s a matter of mathematics. The SS puts their top 16 teams (ostensibly) in one bracket. That’s 16 out of 396 school, which is 4.04% of all schools. But, you have to remember that the CCS is a much smaller section, with only 93 schools. If the CCS were to keep just the top 8 teams in one bracket, that would be the equivalent of the SS putting in the top *34* teams in one bracket (8.6%)!

        Sorry, but no… that’s not reasonable.

        Look, what the SS does is admirable, but no other section can duplicate it due to its sheer size. Just because that section decided to do that doesn’t mean the rest of the state should have to coalesce to and accommodate them. All of this vitriol really should be pointed to one source and one source alone… the Southern Section. All of this perceived injustice is due to what the *SS decided* and no one else.

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