By Bill Paterson
It wasn't that long ago that nationally ranked Folsom High School was trying to get to the elite status of area powers Grant, Granite Bay and Del Oro.
There were four mediocre seasons before the Bulldogs went 9-2 and lost by three points to Napa in the opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs in 2008. The next year Folsom went 11-2 and made it to the D-II semifinals before losing a heartbreaker by a point to Del Oro.
Since then, the Bulldogs have climbed to the top of the heap.
They have gone a combined 42-5 won a CIF State Bowl title, two section banners and last year played in the inaugural NorCal Open Division championship against vaunted De La Salle of Concord.
After Jake Browning threw for seven touchdowns in Friday's 56-23 win in Folsom over No. 11 Roseville, the Bulldogs are 3-0 this season, ranked 16th nationally, No. 8 in California, No. 2 in Northern California and No. 1 by The Bee.
They are strong candidates to repeat as section champions and return to the CIF NorCal Open Division playoff.
So what gives? What put Folsom over the hump four years ago?
"We were so close those two years with David Graves and then Dano's (Graves) junior season," Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson said of the 2008 and 2009 seasons. "We were winning nine games during the regular season....and just getting closer and closer each time.
"But when we finally got that section championship and that state championship (in 2010), now the mentality was set. Winning is kind of expected now and the bar has been set. We've got a good thing going."
Do they ever.
On Friday, Folsom dominated on both sides of the ball against a Roseville team riding high after knocking off Cosumnes Oaks and No. 13 Rio Linda the first two weeks.
Browning completed 22 of 32 passes for 348 yards. His seven touchdowns, four of which went to Will McClure (eight catches, 162 yards), was a season high. He now has 16.
Defensively, the Bulldogs had seven sacks (2 1/2 each by Lukas Hendricks and Sam Whitney) and an interception by Mike McCuaig and held the Tigers to minus 10 yards rushing.
It doesn't hurt that Richardson and co-coach Troy Taylor run a sophisticated spread offense that seems to get more potent each season.
But the biggest change has been on defense.
Whereas Folsom defenders once were viewed as soft and poor tackles, they now have a punch-you-in-the-kisser toughness under defensive coordinator Lou Baiz, the former Sac State assistant.
"When you're working in the weight room, it's only going to help you with open field tackling and rallying to the football," Richardson said. "Then you have someone like Lou who puts our players in great positions schematically. That's a deadly combination."
Roseville's Kyle Downie was 10 of 17 for 125 yards and a 10-yard touchdown to Jonathan Lopez (six catches, 106 yards).
In other games:
No. 4 Oak Ridge 21, No. 10 Franklin 13 at Cosumnes Oaks - Ian Book threw three touchdown passes to Justin Priest, and the Trojans defense held the Wildcats to a season-low point total.
No. 12 Rocklin 35, Whitney 7 at Whitney - Logan Webb threw for 204 yards and three touchdowns, including two to Blake Laurin and Ryan Durgarian returned an interception 18 yards for a score as the Thunder topped the Wildcats in the Quarry Bowl.
No. 13 Rio Linda 27, No. 16 Antelope 7 in Rio Linda - Marcel Brown rushed for 176 yards and two touchdown on 17 carries; Leo Skattebo had 11 tackles and the Knights held the Titans to 103 total yards.
No. 15 Monterey Trail 48, Valley 6 at Cosumnes River College - Donovan Robinson ran for a 60-yard touchdown and threw for a 35-yard score and Jahmar Sexton returned a kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown as the Mustangs topped the Vikings.
No. 19 Vista del Lago 49, Laguna Creek 21 at Elk Grove - Matt Jimison passed for four touchdowns as the Eagles topped the Cardinals.
Capital Christian 21, Lathrop 12 at Capital Christian - Justice Shelton-Mosely rushed for touchdowns of 55, four and three yards to lead the Cougars to the win.
Earlier in the day Capital Christian's 6-foot-6, 295-pound senior tackle and national recruit Nifae Lealao verbally committed to Stanford.
Christian Brothers 47, McClatchy 20 at Hughes Stadium - Mason Stahley returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown and Ryan Graggs had a 34-yard interception for a touchdown to lead the Falcons over the Lions.
Ponderosa 24, Cordova 0 in Shingle Springs - Colby Chiverton threw two touchdown passes and rushed for another to lead the unbeaten Bruins over the Lancers.
Colfax 49, Union Mine 7 in Colfax - Michael Wilson completed 23 of 29 passes for 265 yards and five touchdowns for the Falcons.
Bear River 35, Woodland 7 in Lake of the Pines - Braden Duncan completed seven of eight passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns and David Chorjel had 10 tackles and a fumble recovery for the Bruins.