In most cases, Week 1 football games are season openers that serve as tune-ups for the start of region play in another month or so.
Not so in SCISA Class 3A. All for Midlands teams dive right into serious matters on Friday night when five-time defending champion Hammond travels to face Cardinal Newman at George Watson Field and Heathwood Hall makes its debut under new coach Jon Wheeler at Ben Lippen’s Hataway-Weeber Stadium.
Hammond will have its first game under new quarterback Jake Nidiffer, whose older brother David guided the Skyhawks to a 25-1 record and two championships (2009-10). The younger Nidiffer may not have to carry much of the offensive load early in the season, considering blue-chip running backs B.J. Bennett and Joey DeAngelis are back.
The Skyhawks open the season with a 17-game winning streak in hand.
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Cardinal Newman went 0-10 last season and is mired in a 15-game losing streak. The Cardinals’ numbers are up for the first time in years, but the road to respectability is still a protracted one.
The Skyhawks have dominated the series, and are 7-0 vs. the Cards since Erik Kimrey took command in 2004.
Ben Lippen is coming off a solid 7-4 campaign and has strung together four straight winning seasons. The goal this year is to get past the first round of the state playoffs for a chance. The Falcons have won just one postseason game since 2004.
Heathwood Hall fell hard a year ago with the graduation of 20 seniors who helped the Highlanders beat Hammond once and reach the SCISA title bout in 2009. Last year, the young, inexperienced and depth challenged team went 2-8 and missed the playoff cut for the first time in 14 years.
Wheeler was the defensive coordinator at Hammond the past two seasons.
Quarterback Austin Irish and running back Tyler Renew are two of Ben Lippen’s veteran leaders. Heathwood Hall figures to be much more potent on the attack this season with the return of quarterback Will Detwiler, who passes for 1,800 yards as a freshman a year ago, and some promising playmakers at running back and receiver.
The Highlanders enjoy a 10-6 advantage in the series since Ben Lippen’s SCISA debut in 1996.