Quarterback Jake Browning and host Folsom High School held off Delta River League rival Jesuit 42-35 Friday in an entertaining and closer-than-expected Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal in front of a packed crowd in the chill at Prairie City Stadium.
But Folsom's return to the section finals for a fourth consecutive season - against neighboring rival Oak Ridge, another league opponent, at Sacramento State - was set in motion during the searing heat of summer.
With Friday's win over the fired up Marauders (9-4), Folsom is 13-0 this season, ranked No. 15 nationally, No. 5 in the state and No. 2 in Northern California by Maxpreps.com.
In the last four seasons, Folsom is 52-5 with two D-II section titles, a CIF State Bowl championship banner and a NorCal Regional runners-up appearance.
The formula is simple: Consistency of coaching, skilled players who having grown up running a spread offense, cutting-edge schemes and, most importantly, hard work.
"Because of our success, the bar has been set pretty high," said Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson. "So we don't have issues with guys missing workouts or skipping our speed work or our summer program when it's 100 degrees out.
"When you are used to winning and as long as you keep working hard while you are winning, you get buy-in from the kids, the parents. We've got a good thing going."
A good thing that developing programs like Jesuit want to emulate. The Marauders lost by 42 points to Folsom in their last meeting in October but made things interesting on Friday.
Behind defensive stalwarts Austin Gates and Cole Wilbourne and the running of Ben Parietti and Beau Bisharat and quarterback Jason Elenberger, the Marauders took a 21-20 lead early in the third quarter after driving 72 yards. Parietti's 9-yard touchdown run capped the drive.
Folsom went up 28-21 on a Browning 3-yard keeper and two-point conversion pass to Josiah Deguara with five minutes to go in the third quarter.
Jesuit tied it 28-28 on Elenberger's dazzling 47-yard burst, but Folsom scored the next two touchdowns, a 12-yard touchdown run by Bailey Laolagi late in the third quarter and a Bryan Weldy 9-yard rushing touchdown with 9:56 to play, to go ahead 42-28.
Jesuit closed to within seven points with 7:31 to play on Bisharat's powerful 13-yard run in which he dragged several Bulldog tacklers into the end zone with him.
But Folsom was able to run out the clock.
Browning finished 32 of 43 for 383 yards and one touchdown pass and two rushing touchdowns. Ben Trumm had two field goals, including a 37-yarder.
It was a strong finish for a Jesuit program under second-year coach Marlon Blanton that won its first playoff game in 10 years this season.
That Delta River League competition has steeled Folsom, too, and the Bulldogs expect that Oak Ridge will also bring a strong performance in the final after falling to Folsom 35-0 during the league season.
The Delta River League is viewed not only as one of the section's best but one of the strongest in Northern California, though it will disappear next season in the section's new realignment.
Folsom, Oak Ridge, Pleasant Grove and Jesuit are ranked among the top five in the section and top eight in Northern California by Maxpreps.com.
Oak Ridge 26, Pleasant Grove 20 in El Dorado Hills - Tanner Hughes scored three rushing touchdowns, including two in the second half, to propel the Trojans (12-1) over the Eagles (10-3). Pleasant Grove led 7-6 at the half on a Dre Terrell one-yard rushing touchdown, but the Trojans scored twice on a Hughes score and 31-yard rushing touchdown by Josh Wellman to take a 2D0-7 lead with 4:27 left in the third. Oak Ridge won the first contest between the DRL opponents 28-14 on Nov. 1.
Terrell tossed two late touchdowns to to Wyatt Demps for Pleasant Grove.
Oak Ridge sophomore quarterback Ian Book passed for 130 yards and Wellman led the way for 80 rushing yards.
Del Oro 52, Yuba City 26 in Loomis - Michael Moore threw five touchdown passes, three to Tyler Meteer, and Trey Udoffia had a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown to lead the top-seeded Golden Eagles (11-2) over the Honkers (11-2). Udoffia also caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Moore. Isaac Lessard was 25 of 37 for 366 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for a score for Yuba City.
Manteca 45, Inderkum 36 in Manteca - The Tigers (10-3) scored 22 fourth-quarter points but it wasn't enough to catch the the Buffaloes (12-1). Alex Laurel
rushed for 193 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries and also had a touchdown catch for Manteca.
Hilmar 19, Center 13 in Hilmar - Jonathan O'Brien's 13-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Robinson early in the fourth quarter enabled the Yellowjackets (13-0) to rally and beat the Cougars (9-4). Devon Mederios had a school-record 56-yard field goal and also made a 37-yarder for Hilmar.
Correspondent Trevor Horn contributed to this report.