SACRAMENTO — With his team down 31-0 at the half at Saturday’s Sac-Joaquin Section championship game, Tracy High senior linebacker Brandon Russell knew it was time to challenge his teammates to renew the drive and spirit that got the Bulldogs to the championship game.
“We talked amongst out teammates and said, we know this is our last game but we can’t let it seem like that,” Russell said. “We can’t put our heads down and just fold, so we went out there and gave it everything we’ve got for Tracy pride like we did for the last few games.”
The Bulldogs (10-4), who came into the SJS Division I playoffs as the No. 7 seed, had defied the odds by beating two higher-ranked teams, Jesuit and Granite Bay, to get to Saturday’s SJS Division I championship game against No. 1 Folsom at Sacramento State University’s Hornet Stadium.
Saturday night's 55-7 loss to Folsom (14-0) ended Tracy's run, and moves Folsom to the California Interscholastic Federation Division I North championship against Grant High (14-0, 7-0 Delta League) of Sacramento. Grant won the SJS Division II title with a 21-14 win over St. Mary’s of Stockton on Friday. The winner of that game goes to the CIF Division I bowl game on Dec. 19 against Edison High of Fresno or Oceanside High of Oceanside.
Tracy coach Matt Shrout told his team that even with the loss, the Tracy team made it further than any Bulldog team in the past 27 years and now has played with the state’s best teams.
“I can’t be more proud of you guys,” he told the players afterward. “How many times did we battle back? Eventually it was going to get us. We played a very good team that is probably going to play another two weeks and probably bring back a state championship.”
Folsom co-head coach Troy Taylor said his team came into Saturday’s game knowing that Tracy was determined to beat the odds again.
“We knew we had to come and play well and our guys executed,” he said. “(Tracy is) just an incredibly well-coached and courageous group, and we feel fortunate to beat them.”
The Folsom team brought a fast-paced offense to the field Saturday and scored on every possession of the night, with the exception of a second-quarter drive when Tracy senior safety Jake Serrato intercepted Folsom senior quarterback Jake Browning’s pass on the Tracy 10-yard line.
Tracy went three-and out after that, and Browning threw a 23-yard touchdown pass four plays later to senior Cole Thompson. It was one of six touchdown passes that Browning threw, giving him a total of 220 touchdown passes for his high school career, a new national record. Folsom also scored on Browning’s 1-yard touchdown run and two field goals, 30 yards and 35 yards, for Troy Calderara, who also made all seven point-after kicks.
Browning totaled 390 yard for the night completing 29 of 44 passes, with four to Thompson for 141 yards, including an 88-yard touchdown pass at the start of the third quarter, 10 passes for 116 yards to senior Josiah Deguara and seven passes for 67 yards to junior Jake Jeffrey. In all the Folsom team had 534 total yards of offense.
Tracy totaled 156 yards of offense, almost all of it in the second half, including 90 yards on 11 carries for senior fullback Nate Jones.
Jones also had a 48-yard kickoff return in the third quarter, and the following three-play 40 yard drive included a 6-yard run of senior Jacob Alvarado, a 22-yard run for senior Jason Nelson, a personal foul penalty on Folsom, and a 6-yard run for Jones to get him to the end zone.
Jones held the ball forward to put it over the goal line on the final play of the drive, but he lost the ball on his lunge into the end zone and officials ruled that he fumbled before the ball crossed the goal line, giving Folsom possession after the ball bounced out of bounds.
Tracy got another chance on a 67-yard drive at the start of the fourth quarter, including runs by Jones and Brown and two passes to senior Nick Tobeck, with Brown passing to Jones for a 14-yard touchdown. Junior Nathan Shankel kicked the extra point.
Tracy offensive guard Nate Brown said the Folsom defensive line was the toughest his team faced yet.
“They play with a speed, if you’re not ready they’re going to hit you in the mouth, and I think a little bit of our troubles in the first half were because maybe we weren’t ready for the speed that they had,” Brown said.
Quarterback Michael Brown added that Folsom’s defense gave him and the Bulldog offense little time to react and little room to move.
“Their line was fast off the ball and their backers flew really well to wherever our motions were going and wherever we were taking the ball,” he said.
At the end the Tracy quarterback felt like his team held up well, especially after regrouping in the second half.
“That’s the thing I love about this team. We’re still going to try to get our one touchdown, and we’ll do whatever it takes to score,” Brown said. “We’re not going to quit. We’re not going to roll over. We’re going to keep fighting until that last whistle is blown. I can’t be more thankful to have a team like this.”
Jones said that the Bulldogs came in knowing that they would have to play hard until the end, just for the Tracy fans in the visiting side bleachers.
“It’s big history for our school and what we like to do is keep tradition,” Jones said. “Old school Tracy football, hit ‘em every play, and we never gave up. I applaud every single person, our fans, the community, our players, our coaches. I just applaud everyone for it.”