The real fireworks and emotion boiled over Thursday night, miles from any football fields.
War veterans young and old spoke to scores of high school athletes from Del Oro and Granite Bay in an Evening of Honor engagement to kick off the Battle for Veterans benefit showcase that brought three heavyweight programs from Ventura County to face regional powers in Placer County.
Amid tears, three veterans detailed how they lost limbs in combat around the globe, and how they'd march right back to defend their country if only they could.
Stu Weber, a Green Beret from Oregon and a decorated Vietnam veteran with three Bronze Stars, said he emotionally carries the anguish of death and destruction every day.
Marine Juan Dominguez, 28, of New Mexico is a triple amputee, minus his legs and right arm, Joseu Barron, 24, of San Diego, lost his left leg and eye and talked about being blown 50 feet into the air as if in slow motion.
"The players were captivated, coming up to me saying, 'We understand now; we get it,' " said Battle for Veterans coordinator Mark Soto, whose sons Benjamin and Josh also fought overseas but have come home intact. "This really is real life."
Two varsity games at Del Oro provided an opportunity to match muscle and wits against south state programs. Franklin, expecting a record season with 17 returning starters, beat Thousand Oaks 38-28 behind Tre Lampley and 196 team rushing yards. The senior had two first-half interceptions inside his team's 10-yard line and then scored four times a nine-yard run, an 81-yard punt return and touchdown grabs of nine and 48 yards from Trent Spallas.
Before Oaks Christian defeated Del Oro 40-0 in the night's second game, there was a flyover from an F-18.
Del Oro coach Casey Taylor, before his team played, said football continues to be "a vehicle to educate our guys about veterans."
Franklin coach Mike Johnson said he was honored to be invited to the event.
"It's because of the teams of the past in our area (bowl teams Grant, Rocklin, Folsom and Del Oro) we're able to join Del Oro and Granite Bay here, and it's an honor," Johnson said. "Great experience. We have a veteran in Josh Simpson who played for us and visited us recently. Told the guys about some experiences . The guys, their jaws dropped. Our guys take things too seriously sometimes. We get to go home to our families every night. Those in war do not. It's serious here, football and all, but it really isn't."
Dominguez, served as the honorary captain for the Del Oro-Oaks Christian game, surrounded by team captains at midfield.
"I'm honored to be here," he said. "A lot of veterans are too prideful to talk, so I do it for them. We need to be heard."