They lined up for tickets at Tom Flores Stadium at 8:30 a.m. Saturday for a football game that would begin 11 hours later.
They would stuff a record 7,500 fans in a venue that houses a 117-year high school program in Sanger.
And they saw a quarterback deliver a Hall of Fame performance from the school that graduated Tom Brady.
Serra-San Mateo’s latest great at the position is one Sitaleki Nunn, who accounted for 454 yards and six touchdowns as the Padres separated from the Apaches in the fourth quarter for a 49-36 win in the CIF North Division 2-A Regional Championship Bowl.
It was 28-28 in the fourth quarter when Nunn escaped pressure as he did wire to wire, completed TD passes of 54 yards to Charlie Quinn and 55 to Isiah Kendrick, and also rushed for a 5-yard score for a 49-28 lead with 1 minute, 39 seconds remaining.
That was it, Sanger’s school-record season finished at 13-1 and now the question: Is Apaches 27-year coach Chuck Shidan finished, also?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m going to catch my breath and we’ll see.”
Many in the community have for months been convinced that the coach with a 203-111 record, eight league titles and four Central Section championships will resign.
When will he make the call?
“Probably in a couple weeks,” he said. “Over the holidays, I’ll talk to my wife and family and see what goes down.”
What went down Saturday night on a pleasant 60-degree night that betrayed forecasts and had minimal rain was Serra’s three-year star in Nunn.
“He was the difference, obviously,” Shidan said of the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder, who carried 23 times for 163 yards and four TDs and completed 14 of 21 passes for 291 yards and two scores. “He made some big plays, especially when we had him pinned. And that hasn’t happened to us all season.”
Nunn has been offered scholarships by Army, San Jose State and Sacramento State but says he’s waiting for more while remaining uncommitted. When asked if he’s had a better game, he said: “I don’t know, I don’t focus on stats but every time I touch the ball I have to score, I’ve got to light up the scoreboard; that’s my mentality. Everything I do is for people in the stands and my family; I’m grateful.”
What he described as a “college atmosphere” got at times so loud he had to clap a couple times in shotgun formation to communicate with his teammates.
Serra coach Patrick Walsh, a former running back at perennial national power De La Salle-Concord, found the stage unprecedented.
“You had to be there to fully feel the presence of that town,” he told the San Jose Mercury News. “I’ve never been a part of a high school experience like that and I’ve been around high school for a long time. It was second to none, unbelievable atmosphere. Loud, red — win or lose, it was going to be a great atmosphere.
“It was hard to communicate, it was loud, and the way the kids showed poise out there on the field under duress in about as hostile of an environment in the state of California was spectacular — offensively and defensively.”
Serra (10-4), which plays in the powerful, all-private, eight-school West Catholic League, will oppose Sierra Canyon-Chatsworth (14-0) for the state Division 2-A title next Saturday at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium at noon.
Serra ran into a sensational sophomore in Sanger’s Jalen Cropper. He carried 10 times for 134 yards, including a 59-yard TD, and closed the Apaches’ scoring with a 74-yard reception.
Sanger’s wing-T burned the Padres several times as Christian Graney also rushed for 95 yards, including a 66-yard score, and Andrew Azua closed a three-year career with 55 yards and his 36th TD – No. 4 in school history.
Apaches senior quarterback Jacob Tijerina passed for 156 yards and two TDs, but was intercepted in the end zone to close the first half by Taniela Latu in arguably the play of the game, one that started from the Padres 6-yard line. That left Serra with a 21-14 lead.