A few hours before kickoff between Folsom and De La Salle high schools Saturday, one parking lot on the east side of Sacramento State's Hornet Stadium had become a mass of blue.
Smoke and smells mingled from a host of grills. A stereo played KC and the Sunshine Band. Footballs made crossing arcs through the air and a "Bulldog Nation" flag hung over several hundred Folsom fans, including Dave Knox, who had transplanted what appeared to be a set of patio furniture from home onto the middle of the asphalt.
"We figured first class all the way," said Knox, father of Folsom wide receiver Troy Knox, from one of the chairs. "It's a big game."
For both schools, to be sure, with the winner advancing to next weekend's CIF State Open Bowl. And in regional scope, as evidenced by an announced crowd of 10,197 on a chilly night that was strong if slightly smaller than projected.
Ticket windows opened at 3 p.m., with a line of several hundred people stretching out the gate and halfway around one side of the stadium.
Tailgates popped up across the parking lots, many schemed in blue or green based on rooting interest.
When the gates opened 90 minutes before kickoff, the lines snaked around the stadium, prompting one gate staffer to remark the section hadn't seen such a turnout "in a long time" though perhaps it fell short of the overflow crowd in 2010 when Folsom defeated Grant for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II title.
"I think it's bigger than the Grant game," Folsom parent Scott Wightman said. "Because it's De La Salle. They're legendary."
Dave Martin, waiting in the ticket line wearing a De La Salle jacket and cap, said he had made the drive from Antioch. "It's the first time really that we've played anybody up here," he said. "And as sports fans you're not going to miss a big game, even if it takes an hour and a half to get there."
Indeed, with both teams unbeaten and perennial Bay Area powerhouse De La Salle playing a football game in Sacramento for the first time, the stands featured plenty of neutral clothing, some bearing the logos of other area high schools, including Del Oro, Grant and Franklin.
"I'm basically here to see De La Salle play," said Phil Barretto, 65, of Sacramento. "When you think of football, I think you think of De La Salle."
A walk down the ticket line showed that interest had extended to San Francisco and Reno, said Ron Nocetti, the CIF associate executive director.
The game included the novelty of being the first NorCal Regional Open showdown, essentially a play-in for the State Bowl.
"What tells us a game is important and has garnered the respect of the entire community is when you have your football fans showing up instead of simply the fans, parents and friends of the school communities," Nocetti said. "That's really what we're going to see tonight."
Nocetti said the CIF would make note of how Sac State handled the games this weekend and the level of community interest. Sac State is one of four sites that have entered a bid to be the next host site for the CIF State Bowl games, beginning next year.
Other bidders include Hughes Stadium at Sacramento City College and the current State Bowl host site, the Home Depot Center in Carson, Nocetti said. He said the CIF's goal is to announce the next host site by next weekend.
"We're obviously going to look and see how the games are this weekend, how the facility hosts the games this weekend, in making the determination," Nocetti said.