There was more of a media presence at any De La Salle home football game perhaps ever played at the Concord campus when Folsom and the Spartans met on Friday night. The history that happened between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in Northern California wasn’t the first loss by DLS to a NorCal foe (north of Fresno) since 1991 but the first time the Bulldogs have been blanked in 14 years. Go inside for details how the De La Salle defense did it against one of the state’s most prolific offenses and what the result means for the bigger picture of the CIF Open Division.
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It’s not like longtime De La Salle of Concord defensive coordinator Terry Eidson is like some crazed director waving his hands at every imperfection, but his unit on Friday night turned in one of the finest performances of any defense in the storied program’s history when it shut out Folsom 14-0 at Owen Owens Field.
Facing an opponent that went 16-0 last season in winning the CIF Division 1-AA state title and scored 770 points (48.1 ppg), the Spartans became the first team to shut out the Bulldogs since 2004 when they lost a contest that season 23-0 to Woodcreek of Roseville. They extended their unbeaten streak against schools from the CIF’s NorCal region to a ridiculous 291 games (there were two ties in 2004), a streak that goes back to a loss to Pittsburg in the CIF North Coast Section championships.
“It’s up there,” said De La Salle head coach Justin Alumbaugh of the best defensive outings he’s seen in his years at the school as a player, assistant coach and head coach. “When you first look at the Folsom offense, you see these incredible players and people say things like they are unstoppable. We were confident we could make them work hard to score, but didn’t think we’d get a shut out.”
Turnovers played a giant role in the Bulldogs not being able to score since they fumbled three times and there were two interceptions. But the Spartans had to make the plays to get those turnovers and there were many other deflected passes and tackles for loss. Folsom’s defense also played well, repeatedly stuffing the De La Salle run game, and at halftime it was 0-0.
With a different official’s call, it even could have been a Folsom 7-0 lead at the break. Junior Daniyel Ngata (who rushed for 82 yard in the game) was trying to score on what would have been a 13-yard run, but was ruled to have fumbled the ball into the end zone where it was recovered for a touchback by De La Salle’s Jhasi Wilson. Photos later seemed to show that Ngata’s knee was down at the 4-yard line before he lost the ball while reaching toward the goal line.
“That was a huge momentum swing,” said Folsom head coach Kris Richardson, the 2017 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year. “We go in up 7-0 is a big difference at 0-0. Again, that isn’t why we lost. We just didn’t execute offensively to the best of our ability.”
Folsom went backwards on its first series of the second half, a drive that included a penalty, but it ended on a 6-yard sack of quarterback Kaiden Bennett that was initiated by pressure from one of the Spartans’ top two college prospects — defensive end/tight end Isaiah Foskey.
After a punt return by junior Shamar Garrett brought the ball to Folsom’s 28-yard line, the Spartans scored their first touchdown on a 17-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Dorian Hale to that guy Foskey, who doesn’t catch a ton of passes in that offense but makes them count when he does (like the TD catch he had against Mater Dei of Santa Ana in last year’s state final).
Folsom had an amazing 64-yard run by Daniyel Ngata right in front of the De La Salle sidelines on its next series negated by a penalty.
De La Salle then had two chances to increase its lead, but didn’t get points either time.
On the first, a 25-yard pass by Hale to senior Grant Daley brought the ball inside the 15-yard line, but on a third down play from the 8-yard line, senior linebacker-running back Henry To’oto’o (who was arguably the best player on the field all night) fumbled it and Folsom’s Noah Jenkins recovered at the 1-yard line.
On the second, following Folsom being unable to drive the ball too far from the 1-yard line and punting, the Spartans converted on a fourth down play to push the ball inside the 15-yard line. That chance, however, ended with a missed 43-yard field goal after two penalties and a 7-yard loss.
With Folsom seemingly having dodged a bullet and with almost the entire fourth quarter still to go, it’s offense took over with confidence it could tie the score or go ahead. After two first downs, Bennett was trying to scramble away from pressure when he fumbled. To’oto’o, who earlier picked up a fumble on a very similar play, did it again. He didn’t get far, but De La Salle was set up again to increase its lead.
On the third try, the Spartans succeeded. A 19-yard run by Garrett put the ball at the Folsom 25. Then on a third-and-eight from the 23, Hale zipped a pass over the middle that was tipped by not one but two Bulldog defenders. Unfortunately for them, the bouncing ball was grabbed by De La Salle’s Vince Bianchina at the 5-yard line. Hale snuck it in from the 1 two plays later and after the PAT the lead was 14-0.
With Folsom’s offense, two touchdowns or more in 8:19 can be no problem so the game was far from over. Joe Ngata, the Clemson-committed wide receiver who had 1,777 receiving yards last season, had a 29-yard run on a reverse and there was a 15-yard penalty against the Spartans that helped bring the ball inside the 15-yard line. That was as far as the Bulldogs got. Facing a fourth down at the 14, Bennett tried to zing a pass to Ngata, but at the last instant it was flicked away by De La Salle’s Amir Wallace. The Spartans then ran out the last 2:58 of the contest.
“I told him to take those shots,” Richardson said of Bennett’s two interceptions. “They were not his reads. I called it. We’ll just have to turn the page and get going again next week.
“We knew that their pass rush was going to be tremendous, they have one of the best defensive lines out there. But after awhile when the quick screens aren’t working you have to take some shots.”
That last play by Wallace was indicative of how the Spartan defense was able to do what it did all night long. He was in single coverage against Joe Ngata and the play didn’t work. He was in single coverage almost all night, too, as was the corner on the other side, Taveis Marshall. If you were to compare how Folsom’s receivers (primarily Ngata and junior Elihjah Badger) did against single coverage against two highly touted Helix of La Mesa corners in last year’s state final and how Wallace and Marshall fared on Friday night, it was night and day. And Wallace and Marshall (both lanky and both with plenty of speed to keep up with just about anyone) are for the most part unheralded by the recruiting networks. Wallace is showing an offer from the University of San Diego. Marshall is showing one from Air Force. That is almost certainly going to change.
“I played my game and played my technique,” Wallace said. “We don’t get intimidated. We’re all still in high school and we’re all the same age. It’s hard work and we’ve been waiting to play them since January.”
Since Wallace and Marshall could handle single coverage, De La Salle’s defensive line had the confidence to put the screws on Folsom’s offensive line (which was perceived to be a possible weaker aspect of its team this season with three starters gone). Both Foskey and senior Beaux Tagaloa were disruptive and dominant at times. And then there was To’oto’o. His primary role was to mirror Bennett on every play, timing his pass rush against him on some plays, tackling him on running plays and preventing him from escaping on scrambling plays. Wilson also had a lot of one-on-one tackles against Daniyel Ngata.
With the win, De La Salle will stay No. 1 for the CIF’s NorCal region as it relates to projecting toward the CIF Open Division state final. And with other results on Friday, especially preseason hyped Pittsburg losing to Clayton Valley of Concord, it’s hard to see any other NorCal team coming very close to the Spartans. Folsom is still likely the second-best team in the region, but it will need to bounce back next week against state-ranked Jesuit of Carmichael. De La Salle’s upcoming game at home against Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas will only be for national rankings implications. A loss won’t matter regarding the CIF Open Division.
Did the impressive shutout show that the Spartans may do better in a likely matchup in December with Mater Dei or St. John Bosco? Defensively, yes. But the offense still is similar to the previous two seasons when the Braves and Monarchs (now laden with even more D1 college bound transfers from other schools) didn’t have much trouble with De La Salle. If Hale can show he’s a dynamic talent like some previous DLS dual-threat quarterbacks, that may be the key. He’s not there yet, but this was his first start. The last sophomore to start for the Spartans was future NFL quarterback Matt Gutierrez in 1999.
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