History Lesson: DLS vs. Folsom

Historical angles are all over the map as De La Salle of Concord gets set to open its 2018 season at home on Friday in a matchup against Folsom that brings together the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in Northern California and No. 3 vs. No. 4 in the state.

Northern California prep football — and by that we mean the CIF sections in the state north of the CIF Central Section — has been overwhelmingly dominated by the enveloping presence of the program at De La Salle of Concord for 27 years.

Senior LB David Ortega had two of De La Salle’s three interceptions during 2013 win vs Folsom in NorCal Open bowl game. Photo: Mark Tennis.

People may say the Spartans have not played a tough schedule in many of those years, but this is still a region of the state that includes one of the top 10 media markets (San Francisco Bay Area) in the nation and one of the top 20 (Sacramento-Stockton). It’s an area that has more than 400 high schools. So for one football program to be the best from all of that region for 27 consecutive seasons is something that hasn’t happened in U.S. prep football history. Not even close.

Every year, the thought has to cross every prep writer’s head, that one of these years and one of these days, De La Salle is going to lose one game to one of these teams. It just doesn’t seem to happen, which is why the Spartans have been in every CIF Open Division state final except the first one in 2008 and it’s still an argument to this day that they should have been in that one too instead of Grant of Sacramento.

Most of our NorCal prep colleagues are now ingrained not to blindly state that De La Salle has not lost to another NorCal school since it fell to Pittsburg 35-27 in the CIF North Coast Section championship in 1991. That’s because NorCal geographically certainly includes Fresno and in 2004 and 2005 the Spartans lost games to Clovis West of Fresno. Still, their unbeaten streak of not having lost to another opponent north of Fresno is at 290 games at the start of this season. For most of the years, of course, DLS didn’t lose to any opponent from 1991 to 2004 when it obliterated the national record with 151 straight triumphs.

In addition to those losses to Clovis West, De La Salle also had two ties to local opponents in 2004 — the first to Palma of Salinas and the second to Clayton Valley of Concord. And it’s not like the Spartans have not come very, very close to losing to another local foe. In 2009, Serra of San Mateo, whose head coach, Patrick Walsh, was the leader of the team at De La Salle who started the NorCal domination in 1992, lost 29-28 essentially when a botched snap on a last-minute PAT attempt by the Spartans was run in for a two-point conversion. In 2011, Bellarmine of San Jose had a chance to win in overtime but had a two-point play stopped and lost 26-23 in two overtimes. Then just two years ago, San Ramon Valley of Danville had DLS on the ropes, scored late and went for two to get the win but couldn’t convert and lost 28-27.

Folsom had two previous attempts to beat the Spartans and didn’t come close either time. In 2012, with then sophomore Jake Browning leading the way, the Bulldogs, who were 14-0, faced De La Salle in the first-ever CIF NorCal Open Division championship. It was a wake up call as DLS prevailed 49-15 and then went on to beat Corona Centennial 49-28 in what became the final game in the legendary career of DLS head coach Bob Ladouceur. Then in 2013, with first-year head coach Justin Alumbaugh leading the program, Folsom again looked like its high-octane offense might give the Spartans a lot of trouble, but this time Browning and company in his junior year were stopped again 45-17.

In both of those games, Folsom got itself in trouble by not punting on fourth downs deep inside its own half of the field. Against even good high school defenses, going for it frequently on fourth down has been a staple of the Bulldogs’ attack. Against DLS, however, that is just not going to work nearly as often and those stops only helped the Spartans score more frequently themselves and forced the Bulldogs to take more risks on offense later on playing in catch up mode. We’d be surprised if Folsom still does the same in this week’s game.

The two teams didn’t play in 2014 because the CIF stopped having the Open Division regional games. The reasons for doing that might make sense for many, but it’s just too bad the CIF couldn’t have waited one more year. De La Salle of 2014 and Folsom of 2014 were the top two teams in the state and two of the best teams in NorCal history. Folsom of 2014 set the national scoring record and won the CIF D1 state title 68-7 over Oceanside. Browning (now at Washington) threw for more than 5,700 yards and 91 TDs and blocking for him was a player who’s projected to be a top five pick in the next NFL draft, offensive tackle Jonah Williams. But De La Salle had a collection of one of its best groups of linemen ever and won the CIF Open Division state title. Was Folsom better? Perhaps, but we’ll never know for sure and for rankings purposes the Spartans just had to be higher for winning those games the way they did in 2013 and 2012 and for winning the Open Division.

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This brings us to Friday night. Folsom ended the 2017 season at 16-0 with the CIF D1-AA state title and had another offensive juggernaut — led by junior QB Kaiden Bennett, junior WR Joe Ngata, sophomore RB Daniyel Ngata and junior WR Elihjah Badger. Notice the classes of all of those players. All were going to be back and they are back. De La Salle ended 2017 after getting dominated 56-21 by national No. 1 Mater Dei (Santa Ana) in the CIF Open Division final.

Both schools should be commended for agreeing to play in 2018, even though it had to be in the very first game and in a season that was moved up one week in the state for everyone. De La Salle could have not played Folsom, won all of its games against the rest of its usual CIF North Coast Section competition and then headed off to take another crack most likely at either Mater Dei or St. John Bosco. Folsom could have backed away from playing De La Salle, likely ensuring that the best this year’s team could do was win another CIF D1-AA state title. Instead, they as a group have decided to try for a bigger prize.

In interviews leading up to this week’s game, De La Salle players, led by All-American linebacker Henry To’oto’o, have talked openly that they consider this matchup to be the one that will decide which team goes to the Open Division state final from the north. They’re right. Head-to-head results are always the key to the Open Division berth and this game between a team with 27 straight NCS titles and one with five of the last six CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D1 titles is likely going to decide it. Even if DLS were to lose in its home game against national power Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas, the head-to-head will take precedence.

Folsom head coach Kris Richardson has been the opposite. His stance is that his team hasn’t played one minute in a single game yet so all this talk of the Open Division is way too early. In one sense, he’s right, too. It’s always a possibility that another team (Pittsburg in the NCS perhaps) could be better and there’s a long way to go.

As for what to look for in the game itself, Folsom’s offense is going to be almost impossible for any opponent to stop (even including Mater Dei or St. John Bosco if the Bulldogs get that far). While Bennett isn’t Jake Browning, Browning didn’t have big-time receivers that Bennett has and didn’t hand off to a running back like Daniyel Ngata. If Folsom of 2018 hopes to reach the level of Folsom 2014, however, the offensive line is going to have to be improved (there isn’t anyone like Jonah Williams in the group) and the defense that gave up 42 points to Helix of La Mesa in that state final is going to have to be much, much better.

If there’s an X factor in the game to watch, one possibility is De La Salle TE/DE Isaiah Foksey. He’s the type of player who can be very dynamic as a pass rusher, batting away passes, and then turning around and catching them on offense. In that very first DLS-Folsom game, current Atlanta Falcons’ tight end Austin Hooper (who caught a TD pass in the Super Bowl) was the one who was a thorn in Folsom’s side on many pass plays. The Spartans also know what’s at stake and may have been grooming some other player not many of us know about yet to emerge as a difference maker. We’ve all seen them do it before. We know that sophomore QB Dorian Hale can throw the ball and that this year’s team does intend to add a much more effective passing game. That other player could be someone other than him.

With Hale making his first start and with De La Salle also in recent years just not getting up to speed until later in the season, Folsom and its more experienced offensive players actually probably should be favored to win and end the “NorCal” or “north of Fresno” streak. It is going to end someday, right?

Mark Tennis is the editor and publisher of Cal-Hi Sports. He can be reached at markjtennis@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports

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  1. TinyTim
    Posted August 17, 2018 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    This was a terrific article analyzing both teams going into tonight’s game, and the CIF playoff implications concerning tonight’s outcome. A couple of things, though.
    It’s definitely a probability that tonight’s winner will get the CIF North Open spot. (I’ve been saying this as soon as I saw De La Salle’s and Folsom’s 2018 schedules last winter.) And, neither team loses to anybody north of the Grapevine during regular season or section playoffs. However, I do think there are some 2018 Cali FB season scenarios where there are strong possibilities that tonight’s loser will get the bid over tonight’s winner (Assuming the CIF “Bowl” committee knows what they’re doing or isn’t “politically” or something else influenced.) Here are some.
    Folsom wins, but loses badly at Chaminade Sept. 7, then ‘Nade gets their tails kicked at home the next weekend by ‘Bosco. Although ‘Nade lost 13-24 to Oaks Christian last night, the Eagles were in the game until the last couple of minutes when Oaks’ RB scored on a 65 yard run. Other than DLS, Folsom will not face another team team in the regular season or SJS playoffs that has the athletic talent level of Chaminade. And, playing a talent laden team 370 miles on the road “ain’t easy” for any team. Meanwhile, Dela beats Bishop Gorman at Owen Owens Sept. 14 by a noticeably larger spread than Mater Dei does in Las Vegas next weekend; or even loses to the Gaels, and playing ‘Gorman in Vegas, even for a super talent laden team (over 20 NCAA D-1 potential recruits) like MD “ain’t easy” either. Course , if MD falters in the Trinity League with fewer than 4 wins and /or doesn’t at least reach the SS-D1 semis, these Dela feats should not be enough to unseat the Bulldogs from the Open. However, should Folsom meet St. Mary’s in the SJS-D1 playoffs with a very tight win, but the Rams get their tails kicked again by Mater Dei in Santa Ana Sept. 7, the CIF North Open spot could very well be up for grabs.
    De La Salle wins, but loses to Gorman who had already lost to Mater Dei. Than Folsom goes down to West Hills and knocks off ‘Nade by a noticeably larger spread than ‘Bosco does the following weekend (And ‘Bosco gets at least 4 Trinity League wins and at least reaches the SS-D1 finals). Also, were St. Marys to play MD very tough (even win?) and than meets the Bulldogs in the SJS-D1 playoffs and gets clobbered by them, I think Folsom would look stronger than Dela come CIF playoff time.
    Anyway, I think the “catalyst” for this game’s loser being able get the Open bid over the winner is Bishop Gorman and these super strong teams in the Southland.
    My other thing is this: what the heck kind of offense is De La Salle going to run this season? Dorian Hale appears to be a very talented passing QB. But, he throws left handed! And, not a very viable task in a right sided veer offense. Back in 2001, among other great athletes, Dela had that season, another great, future NFL sophomore QB named Matt Gutierrez, and D.J. Williams as a running back and linebacker. They usually lined up with D.J. as a tailback in the open I with 3 wideouts, or 2 wideouts with double tight ends. Worked pretty well for them since USA Sports named them the top team in the land (everything west of the Atlantic) for the 2001 season (It was the greatest DLS team ever in my “humble” opinion!). Anyway, Henry To’oto’o impresses me as having very similar athletic skills as D.J. Williams at an equal or even higher level. Both athletes seem way more effective as tailbacks rather than as divebacks which usually are the work horses of the Dela veer. With today’s defenses, don’t know if the open I would work too well, even for a team like De La Salle. However, the pistol or single RB shotgun set up could allow for maximizing the skills of both athletes. Problem is that both these setups require different blocking schemes from the veer on the o-line . Over the years, the DLS o-line has been able to control the LOS against bigger, stronger, d-linemen with their quick “down set” cadence and super quick fire out used in their veer offense, and made the Spartans so formidable of a football team. Don’t know if Justin Alumbaugh wants to “mess” with that.
    Anyhow, tonight’s game at 1130 Winton Drive in Concord should beone of the greatest ones.
    Maybe I’ll see you there.

  2. John Fratangelo
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Tiny Tim I believe head to head is the biggest determinant and common opponents next. Most likely DLS would have to be beat out by St Francis or one of its NCS playoff games and not make take its Open Division championship in its section for Folsom to get a bid over, and iff a CCS team like St Francis wins in its matchup and wins its section it would probably get bid/ Lots can happen but Folsom loss is big for open state championship selection since it is head to head. If another team takes NCS and if a CCS team defeats DLS and wins their section, then it would have a shot.

  3. Jae
    Posted September 1, 2018 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    As a folsom fan i am quite disappointed in the outcome of the dls game but i think a lot has to do with turnovers, i think the missed call on the fumble cost momentum and possible 7-0 lead, and psychology…i think mentally folsom was not there and did not execute but dls defense played great too…going to the scenario 2 above,..we are part way thru that..if folsom crushes chaminade by close to same or more than sjb and dls loses to bg who lost 42 – 0 to md…that opens up some interesting ideas…we would have to see dls lose again or have have sjb beat or be close to md with a similar win against chaminade as folsom to even entertain a reconsideration of folsom for open..the head to head loss to dls is huge..we would have to see bg beat dls fairly well, sjb and folsom both beat up chaminade, sjb beat or lose close to md, folsom just crush all the rest in their games, and possibly have dls lose again for folsom to get open…crazy things can happen

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