From Hawaii to Florida, from New Jersey to Washington, from Ohio to numerous Southern California jaunts and many points in between, De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
has traveled the nation to take on all-comers and showcase arguably the nation's most storied prep football program.
But not once have the Spartans made the quick 68-mile ride up Highway 80 to face a Sac-Joaquin Section team in Sacramento.
That will change Saturday and boy is the City of Trees and State Capital ready.
Not only is a prolific 14-0 Folsom
team waiting for the Spartans (13-0) at Sacramento State University in a CIF State Northern California Regional Open Division Bowl Game championship, but so are more than 20,000 eagerly-awaiting fans — perhaps frothing — to cheer on the local team and section. Game time is 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Folsom, located just 18 miles up the road on Highway 50, has a strong fan base but most of the locals on hand have been reading De La Salle's press clippings and watching the Spartans on television for a couple decades.
A Folsom victory, even a highly competitive game, would further the point that Sacramento-area and SJS football is stout and superior to the Bay Area.
Considering De La Salle's acclaim, a State Bowl finals bid is on the line and the cross-sectional matchup, this is one of the biggest prep football games in Northern California history.
"I haven't heard this much anticipation around a game in Sacramento since Donté Stallworth and Grant played Lance Briggs and Elk Grove for the section title in 1998," said MaxPreps Executive Editor Steve Montoya.
See video from that game
Sacramento Bee staff writer Joe Davidson, who has been covering preps in the region since 1988, said Saturday's game is unsurpassed in Sacramento.
"Folsom and De La Salle is absolutely the biggest prep event to hit the state capital," Davidson said. "It's bigger than any of the CIF State track meets, or any of the NorCal or State basketball games at Arco Arena. It's bigger than Oak Ridge beating nationally ranked Mater Dei for the boys Division II title in 2005 and it's bigger than Sheldon playing Mater Dei for the state D-1 title last March.
"It's bigger because it's football, and football is king, and no king stands taller and conquers all comers over the decades quite like De La Salle. Fans will pack in, the De La Salle group and a flood hoping Folsom and Sacramento and the Sac-Joaquin Section drop the king to its knees."
That happened eight years ago in Seattle when De La Salle played in front of its largest crowd, 24,987 at Qwest Stadium. Bellevue (Wash.) squashed the Spartans 39-20 that night, ending their national 151-game win streak.
At a smaller venue — the capacity at Hornet Stadium is listed at 21,195 but they jammed in 26,445 for a World League playoff game in 1992 — it figures to be even louder and more hostile than in Seattle. Michael Hutchings said De La Salle will have special hand signals to combat the noise, but the Spartans can't keep their eyes off Folsom's fastbreak, no-huddle attack very long.
The Spartans, quite literally, will be entering a Hornet's nest. See our California Regional Bowl Game previews for all 10 contests including Folsom-De La Salle
Like Seattle, they're riding an improbable streak, a 235-game unbeaten streak (232-0-2) against Northern California opponents.
"We played at Cal High a couple years ago and they had 5,000 fans and that seemed pretty crazy," De La Salle linebacker and USC recruit
said. "I can't imagine what it's going to be like with 20,000.
"I can't speak for all the other teams, but this is the biggest game I've been part of. I know we've won state and been to Florida and faced nationally ranked teams, but this is the region. You have to be around all these people and hear it from them. … They're all hyped up about it. All the Folsom fans — the whole region will be going against us.
"We have a lot on our hands this week."
The Spartans, especially late in the year, have handled — more like manhandled — steep challenges over the years. They outscored two national Top-10 teams by a combined 82-8 count to win the last two State Open Division Bowl games.
Last week, a strong James Logan-Union City team was supposed to challenge De La Salle's 21-year streak of North Coast Section championships, but limped away with a 52-7 defeat.
Folsom, led by co-coaches with strong Bay Area ties, is well aware of the De La Salle machinery and record.
Troy Taylor, a three-year MVP and quarterback at Cal, who leads Folsom's quarterbacks and offense said: "This is a great opportunity to play a great football program. They do an unbelievable job."
Kris Richardson, who grew up in Pleasant Hill and was a lineman at College Park High School and Diablo Valley College, watched De La Salle firsthand when he played as a prep in the late 1980s.
"They did an amazing job back then and there's been absolutely no drop-off for the last two decades," Richardson said. "It's exciting to play them. It's great to play them. We've always wanted to play them and in this setting is quite remarkable." Old school versus new school
It's a tremendous matchup of coaches and systems, old school versus new school, De La Salle's simple straight-at-you veer versus Folsom's high speed, chuck-and-duck no-huddle spread.
Most intriguing will be Folsom's offensive attack — led by record-breaking 6-foot-2, 185-pound sophomore quarterback
(4,906 yards passing, 61 touchdowns) — against De La Salle strength: a speedy defense that features four Division I recruits, led by Hutchings.
"That (Browning) is amazing," Hutchings said. "His efficiency is off the charts. He's been taught well. He looks like a senior. And their receivers don't drop anything. … It's going to be a great test for us."
Indeed, Folsom's system and efficiency is off the charts. They arrived on the national scene in 2010 when they captured the Division II State Bowl title 48-20 over heavily favored Serra-Gardena.
Dano Graves earned the MaxPreps National Player of the Year honors by accounting for 4,700 yards and 87 touchdowns. Before him it was his brother David Graves who put up pinball numbers and last season Tanner Trosin took over and threw for a state record 5,185 yards and 49 touchdowns.
Richardson came onto the scene in 2005 and the Bulldogs have gone 76-21-1 in that time but 59-8 the last five seasons including the state title. He's implemented a youth program which partially explains the programs remarkable offensive prowess.
"You have to have great players and we do," Richardson said. "On the line, receivers, runners and the quarterback."
He calls Browning "special," which considering Folsom's track record at the position, is telling. "He's great under pressure. Great composure. One of the best I've seen."
But De La Salle brings speed and athleticism that is hard to copy at practice. Especially at the defensive end spots. Austin Hooper
(6-4, 247) and Cal-bound Victor Egu
(6-3, 210) will be the key players in trying to pressure Browning.
Add in strong safety D.J. Moffitt
(6-2, 205) — a fourth Top 100 California senior recruit — and safety Andrew Buckley
(6-1, 195), a Cal baseball recruit — and De La Salle gets to the ball quickly.
"They just line up and play," Richardson said. "They don't throw a bunch of blitz packages. Incredible speed and rally so well to the ball. They don't give up big plays."
And Folsom does nothing but make them.
The deep receiving core is led by Troy Knox
(90 catches, 1,107 yards, 13 touchdowns) and two other receivers — Phillip Carter
and Lucas Owan
— have more than 10 TD receptions also. Their potent pass game sets up the run and Bailey Laolagi
(794 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Harry Lipnosky
(800 yards, 7 TDs) do so effectively.
The remarkable fact about Folsom is that all but Carter and Owan return next year. The Bulldogs arrived a year early.
"We thought we'd be good by the end of the season," Richardson said. "But our offensive line jelled faster than we thought. We've been pretty good since day one."
De La Salle has been good since Bob Ladouceur took over in 1979. He took a program that had never had a winning season, went 6-3 the first year and since — a mind-blogging 391-22-3.
He's 397-25-3 for his career, won eighth mythical national crowns and at 58 he's considering hanging them up after the season
Wouldn't it be something if it ended in his first and only game in Sacramento?
That would likely even surpass the region's greatest victory, Grant's 25-20 win over Long Beach Poly
for the 2008 State Open Division Bowl game. Folsom's 41-20 win over Grant
before 20,020 at Sacramento State in the 2010 SJS Division II title game was also special.
"Grant-Long Beach was incredible but that game was in Southern California," Taylor said. "This one is here. I think that would make it the biggest because it is here."
You can contact Mitch Stephens by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @MitchMashMax.