High school football fans do not have to wait until December this year to see some of the state’s best programs clash on the gridiron.
Hand vs. New Canaan, Xavier vs. Staples and West Haven vs. Greenwich are normally reserved for the postseason. Not this year.
The state’s two premier leagues, the SCC and FCIAC, have joined up to play 17 contests during the season’s opening week, beginning Wednesday.
Dubbed the SCC/FCIAC Challenge, Week 1 could be the most exciting open to the high school football season this state has ever witnessed.
“High school football in the state of Connecticut is a great brand,” Hand coach Steve Filippone said. “This just makes it more exciting. A lot of people are going to be talking about high school football right off the bat.”
The two leagues are similar in demographics and share some history. Since the SCC was formed in 1994, that league leads the overall series with the FCIAC 23-16, which includes a 16-12 mark during postseason meetings. The goal of the Challenge was to ensure the best quality match ups.
“One of the things we looked at from the beginning was, there was some schools that had historical ties (Notre Dame-West Haven vs. St. Joseph, Fairfield Prep vs. Stamford) and some that were located close to each other (Trumbull vs. Shelton),” SCC commissioner Al Carbone said. “When we got together and started talking, these matchups made sense in a lot of ways.
“The reason why this worked out is because the coaches bought into it. They wanted this Week 1, they wanted to kick off the season in a fashion. This is good for high school football. This is good for the state. It’s good to create interest with two leagues coming together that have competed against each other a lot in the state playoffs.”
Defending Class L champion Hand will visit New Canaan on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. The teams have previously met four times — all in the playoffs — with New Canaan holding a 3-1 series edge.
Also Wednesday, Staples will travel to Palmer Field in Middletown to visit defending Class LL champion Xavier. Staples, which returns just four starters, is well-aware of the challenges the Falcons present.
“We’re the team playing the New York Giants Week 1 and we know that, and that’s fine,” Staples coach Marce Petroccio said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. We want competition, we kind of embrace it. We’re not an underdog too many times, but in this one, we’ll be an underdog, and that’s fine.”
Staples and Xavier have met twice, with Staples winning in the Class LL semifinals in 2009 and the Falcons claiming victory in the Class LL title game in 2011.
“I’m really excited,” Staples offensive lineman Nick Ward said. “I played in the game two years ago in the state final game. If we win (Wednesday’s game) I’ll be pretty happy.”
West Haven and Greenwich haven’t met since the Class LL title game in 2002, when the Westies won 20-13 in a hard-fought game at Kennedy Stadium in Bridgeport that saw a Greenwich assistant toss and break the runner up trophy.
Previously, Greenwich defeated West Haven 28-6 in 1964, while the Westies emerged with a 14-6 victory over the Cardinals in 1965. They will square off on Thursday at 6 p.m. in Greenwich.
“They are always a challenge,” Greenwich coach Rich Albonizio said about West Haven. “They are very well coached, they have great tradition like we do. I think it’s a very evenly matched game. I think with two old coaches … I think it’s going to be an interesting matchup, and it’s definitely going to set one team up for success.”
Two Catholic schools, Notre Dame-West Haven and St. Joseph, met nine times from 1985 to 1993 with Notre Dame holding a 5-3-1 series lead. The series ended when Notre Dame joined the SCC in 1994.
They renew the rivalry Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in Trumbull.
“We had some pretty good battles,” Notre Dame coach Tom Marcucci said. “We both have a great tradition of athletes. (The Challenge) is going to be tough on all of us but there’s going to be great interest.”
There will be an additional seven meetings between SCC and FCIAC schools later in the season, including St. Joseph at Fairfield Prep on Sept. 20 and Ridgefield at Notre Dame on Oct. 4.
Stamford hosts Fairfield Prep on Thursday at 7 p.m. The two programs previously had an intense Thanksgiving day rivalry from 1942-1977 with Stamford holding a 16-14-3 series lead.
“We’re just preparing,” Fairfield Prep quarterback Colton Smith said. “We know what they’re capable of, we also know what we’re capable of. We know they’re very athletic, they play hard the whole time, they’re tough. So we just have to contend with that.”
Law and Harding, who meet Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Kennedy Stadium, also share some history. They met 10 times from 1962 to 1971. Harding leads the series 5-4-1.
This game marks the debut of Jack Cochran as the Harding head coach. Cochran won eight state titles during stints at Bloomfield, New Britain and New London but hasn’t coached since 2008.
The Challenge concludes next season as part of a two-year agreement between opponents. The calendar this year and next allows for 11 games to be played, which made the Challenge possible. Beyond that, there’s still some uncertainty. Carbone hopes the Challenge can continue.
“I think what we did with the FCIAC opened up a lot of people’s eyes across the state,” Carbone said. “It says that non-league games are good if you can get competitive games. I think this is going to open up a lot of things.”
Register reporter Mary Albl contributed to this story.
Law at Harding, 6 p.m.
Hand at New Canaan, 6:30 p.m.
Staples at Xavier, 6:30 p.m.
Fairfield Warde at Foran, 7:00 p.m.
Hillhouse at Darien, 4 p.m.
Bassick at East Haven, 6 p.m.
Cheshire at Ridgefield, 6 p.m.
Fairfield Ludlowe at Lyman Hall, 6 p.m.
North Haven at Bridgeport Central, 6 p.m.
West Haven at Greenwich, 6 p.m.
Danbury at Hamden, 7 p.m.
Fairfield Prep at Stamford, 7 p.m.
Trinity Catholic at Sheehan, 7 p.m.
Trumbull at Shelton, 7 p.m.
Wilbur Cross at McMahon, 7 p.m.
Wilton at Guilford, 7 p.m.
Notre Dame-West Haven at St. Joseph, 1:30 p.m.