FCIAC and SCC geared for football challenge
The Connecticut football world is abuzz about the FCIAC-SCC Challenge this week, but two teams got a jump on the festivities last season when Danbury beat Hamden on a late safety after Hamden rallied from down 13 to take the lead in the fourth quarter.
As it turns out, the two will face each other again in the inaugural challenge this week, and if that result is any indication of how the challenge will play out, it will feel as if Christmas arrived early for football fans in southwestern Connecticut.
"It's a great idea," Danbury coach Dan Donovan said. "We played them last year and it is a good matchup and we are looking forward to it. People compare the SCC and the FCIAC all the time, so, we will see what happens. It should be fun."
The two closest opponents geographically will be Shelton and Trumbull with the Eagles heading north on Route 8 for the first showdown between the bordering towns since the 1995 Class LL state championship game that Shelton won 14-7.
"Shelton and Trumbull is a natural rivalry," Shelton coach Jeff Roy said. "It is exciting for the kids and exciting for high school football with two great leagues going at it. Trumbull has a good team and a quarterback (Nick Roberts) that can throw it all over the place. I think this will be a really good game."
Xavier and Staples were booked for a matchup in last year's Class LL finals until NFA knocked off the previously unbeaten Wreckers, denying the two leagues a matchup on the biggest stage.
Fans will finally get their chance to see the teams that finished ranked No. 2 and No. 7 in the final New Haven Register poll last season.
West Haven and Greenwich both finished last season 8-3 and have hopes of cracking the top 10 this season in what may be the best matchup of the challenge at Cardinal Stadium on Thursday.
Hand and New Canaan also could stake a legitimate claim to the best game of the challenge with the Tigers forced into a road game after their stadium renovations took longer than expected.
Hand finished last season as the No. 1 ranked team in the state after winning its second straight Class L title.
Hand defeated the Rams 34-10 in the 2011 championship game and the two teams have won six of the last seven Class L titles with the Rams knocking off Hand to win their 2007 title, so, expect a packed house at Dunning Field on Wednesday evening.
Branford and Amity (SCC) and Norwalk and Westhill (FCIAC) will not play in the challenge, a disappointment to coaches in both leagues.
"I wish everyone had held up their end of the bargain," McMahon A.J. Albano said. "Obviously, some teams declined opening week and some declined bye week and we were one that declined the bye week and now we are sitting and not able to fill it, and I'd rather play than not. I think this is good for both leagues and, hopefully, we can represent the FCIAC next week."
McMahon will host Wilbur Cross on Thursday.
While the younger fans may be geared up for the battles of the powerhouses, old-timers will surely be watching the Stamford vs Fairfield Prep game as the two schools used to be Thanksgiving rivals from the 1950s through the '80s but have not met since.
"This was the big Thanksgiving rivalry when I played," Shea said. "I think this is so good for Connecticut high school football. They used the records of the teams from previous years but also other intangibles and this was one matchup the commissioners wanted. I expect Stamford will be real tough, but we are used to playing LL schools in our league."
Defending Class M champion and No. 4 ranked Hillhouse will travel to Darien and St. Joseph will face Notre Dame-West Haven in a battle of two Catholic schools.
Ridgefield will host Cheshire Thursday night at Tiger Hollow and Tigers coach Kevin Callahan summed up how most football people in the region feel about the challenge.
"I absolutely love it," Callahan said. "I think this will be the greatest opening week high school football in Connecticut has seen in a long time because the games are all spaced out and every night, for about five nights, you are going to watch great football. It is going to be exciting, they are great programs and run a great league and so do we. So, let's go after it and see what we are all about."