Cathedral Catholic of San Diego almost pulls off an upset with a perfect game plan, but falls to Folsom 21-14 in overtime in the Division 1-AA state championship at Cerritos College. In the Division 2-AA state title game, Grace Brethren of Simi Valley erases memories of a loss in the state finals last season in topping Del Oro of Loomis 21-14.
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It wasn’t easy, but the Folsom High football team collecting a fourth CIF state title and second in a row in Division 1-AA on Friday night at Cerritos College put the Bulldogs into some rarified air.
The Bulldogs, ranked fifth in the Cal-Hi Sports State Top 50, had to comeback from a dire situation in the fourth quarter but defeated state No. 8 Cathedral Catholic of San Diego 21-14 in overtime.
Folsom (14-1) repeated as the D1-AA state champions and now has four overall state titles with the first two coming in 2010 and 2014. The only other schools with four or more state football crowns are De La Salle of Concord with seven, Bakersfield with six (all in the 1920s and not counting title in 1916 that wasn’t won on the field) and Central Catholic of Modesto with four. In this decade, DLS has won five of its titles while Central Catholic has won all four. The CIF state football championships resumed in 2006 after not having been played since 1927.
“Yes, this was different than the other three,” said Folsom head coach Kris Richardson, who is the only coach in state history with a 4-0 record in state finals. “In 2010, we kind of broke it open in the second half. In 2014, we just did our thing. And last year it was a lot of back and forth scoring.”
Almost everyone expected more back and forth scoring on Friday, but for Cathedral Catholic, which won the CIF San Diego Section Open Division title and then defeated Narbonne of Harbor City 24-21 in the Southern California D1-AA regional bowl game, for it to have a chance at knocking off Folsom a low-scoring game was required.
The Dons (11-2 not counting one forfeit win) delivered and then some with their execution of running the ball, converting fourth downs and keeping Folsom’s offense off the field. They also kept the Bulldogs off the scoreboard by stopping fourth down plays near their goal line. In the first half, Folsom only had the ball three times with those drives going to the 11, 3 and 9-yard lines. They ended on two fourth downs and a blocked field goal.
On Cathedral Catholic’s second series of the game, the Dons had the ball for 18 plays and reached the Folsom 14-yard line but got no points due to a missed 37-yard field goal. That type of ball control is why it was a 0-0 score halftime, much different than Folsom’s 84-46 win from last week in its NorCal title game win against Central of Fresno. It was very much like Folsom’s first game, which was against De La Salle and essentially decided which of the two would be in the Open Division of this year’s bowl games and which one would be in D1-AA. In that game, Folsom lost 14-0 after being tied 0-0 at the break.
Cathedral Catholic took the second half and got on the scoreboard first with a 75-yard scoring drive, capped by senior running back Shawn Poma’s 10-yard run. Folsom answered right back with an 80-yard drive, with the TD coming on a 1-yard run by senior quarterback Kaiden Bennett.
It looked like the teams were going match touchdowns again on their second possessions of the second half, but after the Dons scored on a 1-yard sneak by junior quarterback D.J. Ralph the ensuing Folsom series ended in near disaster. The Bulldogs did get the ball down to the 11-yard line, but on a third and long play Bennett had a pass down the left sidelines picked off inside the 10-yard line by Dee’shon Swafford and the sophomore ran it back 59 yards the other way before Folsom’s C.J. Hutton (more on him later) raced down the field to make a tackle.
“I was just telling everyone to keep their heads up,” Bennett said. “I knew we’d have at least another drive. We needed our defense to come through and they did.”
A 15-yard penalty helped, but a sack by Chandon Pierre (his fifth of the game, which is the most in any state final other than six by San Francisco Galileo’s Jimmie Edwards in a D6-A contest last season) forced Cathedral Catholic to punt after that interception.
Folsom did get one more chance and moved almost methodically down the field with Bennett either running or passing the ball. It appeared that he had scored on a 46-yard run with a little more than three minutes left on the clock, but that play was brought back to the 32-yard line on a clipping penalty. It didn’t matter. A pass interference penalty against the Dons brought the ball to the 13 and on the second play after that Bennett fired a pass on a slant pattern that was grabbed by Clemson-bound receiver Joe Ngata for a 7-yard touchdown. There was 1:37 on the clock after the PAT by Bryce Buck and the teams were tied 14-14.
Cathedral Catholic still had time to go for the win, but Ralph was sacked twice on passing plays, which forced Dons’ head coach to look toward overtime.
Folsom went first in the extra period after losing the coin toss and scored in two plays. Bennett went to Hutton on a receiver screen from the 17-yard line and the usually unsung hero among the Folsom wideouts became the hero by weaving his way for a touchdown.
Cathedral Catholic tried to answer and on a fourth down play from the 19-yard line it looked for a moment that Ralph had found Zion Sorani for a touchdown pass, but Sorani couldn’t hold on. As the ball dribbled away from him, the Folsom sidelines went bezerk.
“We knew what their game plan was going to be, but time after time we couldn’t score against their great defense,” said Richardson, who added that this was the first overtime game he’d ever coached in during his 24 years as a coach. “It took a little luck with their kid dropping the ball and I feel bad for him, but we made plays, too.”
Cathedral Catholic, which returns most of its starting lineup next season and will be one of the state’s top preseason ranked teams for 2019, fell to 2-1 in CIF state finals. The school won two years ago in an overtime game in the same division against St. Mary’s of Stockton.
“Two years ago, we go to overtime against St. Mary’s and we make a play,” said Dons’ head coach Sean Doyle. “This time, they make a play. That’s how it goes in overtime. Just comes down to one play.
“It was a great game plan by our offensive coordinator (John Montali). I couldn’t be more proud of the kids. I think we flustered them on their offensive side a few times.”
Bennett had the one poor decision on the interception, but had a signature ending for his Folsom career with 24 carries for 168 yards rushing plus 25 of 32 passing for 262 yards and two TDs. One of the reasons his total offense yards of 430 isn’t a state title game record is because he set the record himself with 474 last year against Helix of La Mesa. Bennett said he leaves on January 11 to start his college career at Boise State.
Poma, already named the CIF San Diego Section Player of the Year, was a warrior all night and finished with 32 carries for 166 yards and one TD.
Grace Brethren Gets It Done
With 21-14 Win Vs. Del Oro
After watching how the Del Oro of Loomis football team had used big plays to win late in its two previous games, Grace Brethren of Simi Valley head coach Josh Henderson thought twice about trying a potential game-clinching field goal late in the fourth quarter of his team’s CIF Division 2-AA state championship game.
The Lancers were looking to extend a one-score lead of 14-7 to 10 points or more and while Henderson did send the field goal team out onto the field, the play he called was a fake. His son, Josh, took the ball after the snap and completed a 14-yard pass to Justin Skidmore for a first down. Grace Brethren then scored on the next play on a 5-yard run by Lontrelle Diggs and held on for a 21-14 triumph.
“I was thinking about the first PAT they almost blocked and then the second one that they did and we thought the (fake field goal) might be open,” Coach Henderson said. “I remember it’s the same play we did with the Fontana Bucs (his youth team) in 1988.”
It was a playoff drive of redemption for the Lancers (14-2), ranked No. 20 in the state, since they were defeated in last season’s CIF D2-A state championship 22-13 by St. Francis of Mountain View. They had to win an overtime game in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 semifinals over state-ranked Villa Park and then topped higher ranked Corona del Mar (Newport Beach) 34-31 in the final. Grace Brethren then got past St. Augustine of San Diego in the SoCal final to set up its second chance to win the school’s first state crown.
It was possible that chance was going to come against St. Francis once again, too. But those Lancers lost in last week’s NorCal final 14-13 to Del Oro, which was No. 21 in the state entering the night and had lost its only other game to Folsom in the Sierra Foothill League.
The Golden Eagles (13-2) still didn’t go away quietly after falling behind 21-7. Josh Moore caught a 17-yard TD pass from Carson Jarratt with one minute left, but to have a chance at a tie at that point required getting an onside kick. That attempt harmlessly rolled out of bounds so all Grace Brethren had to do was go to victory formation to run out the clock.
One of the keys to Grace Brethren’s win was an extra week of preparation compared to the normal CIF schedule of one week in-between the regional and state finals. This was due to the entire CIF state schedule having to be pushed back one week to account for all of the section playoff games in the north that had to be postponed due to the impact of the devastating Camp Fire in Butte County. That extra week enabled Diggs, the standout Lancers’ running back, to get stronger from an ankle injury that severely limited him against St. Augustine.
Diggs scored all three of Grace Brethren’s touchdowns and finished with 27 carries for 191 yards.
“It’s amazing what has happened,” he said. “When I first came in a freshman, we were D8. Last year, it didn’t turn out the way we wanted but we made it happen this year. We had a lot of motivation after last year.”
Jarratt had a strong game for Del Oro. He completed 20 of 31 passes for 222 yards and in addition to the 17-yard TD to Moore he connected with senior Dawson Hurst for a 46-yard score in the third quarter that tied the game at 7-7.
“We knew that was a team that refuses to die,” Coach Henderson said of the Golden Eagles. “They played well enough to win, but we got on a mission to win state.
“It wasn’t too long ago we were in D13. This means a lot to a lot of alumni (at Grace Brethren) and for a lot of guys who’ve been with us the whole way.”
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports