Hamilton HS football jumps the gun on Sollenberger Classic

It looks like Hamilton High School‘s football team isn’t going to wait to find out who it will likely play in next season’s high school kick-off game, the Barry Sollenberger Classic.  They’ve just scheduled a game with a Nevada team.

The Sollenberger Classic traditionally pits the Division I state champion from Arizona against the Nevada big-school title holder, with a secondary game between small-school champions.

Hamilton is Arizona’s reigning Division I champion, so they would presumably be next season’s host for a Nevada opponent.  Last year, the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) broke from tradition and invited small-school runner-up, Moapa Valley High School, and Palo Verde High School, a big-school opponent which wasn’t even the state runner-up.  But they were still teams at the top of the Nevada football rankings.

Both teams lost, as Desert Vista High School beat Palo Verde and Blue Ridge High beat Moapa Valley.

Now the Nevada media are reporting that Liberty High School, a Las Vegas-area football power, has agreed to meet Hamilton in a home-and-home series beginning this fall.  The 2013 game will be at Liberty on Sept. 20, with the Patriots coming to Chandler the following year.

There are some interesting aspects to the scheduling of Liberty and Hamilton.

First, Liberty was the runner-up for the Nevada state big-school title last season, losing to Bishop Gorman in the championship game, 63-10.  So it’s not too far-fetched to consider that Liberty could be invited to the Sollenberger Classic.  Last year, Bishop Gorman was passed over and an invitation was issued to Palo Verde High School, which didn’t even play in the championship game.

Gorman is last year’s champion, the fourth straight title for the Gaels, so it would seem they would be first in line for an invitation to play Hamilton, which has won four of the last five Arizona state titles and seven of the last 10.  But if the AIA decides to pass over Gorman again, Liberty would be a likely substitute; the Patriots have lost just four games in the past two seasons and were ranked No. 2 in the state last year.

But if Liberty is already scheduled to play Hamilton next season, that would have to influence the AIA’s decision on a team to invite.  Or it might mean Hamilton would have to step aside to let the Arizona runner-up step in, which would mean that Mountain Pointe High School would become Arizona’s representative.

For the record, Hamilton played Bishop Gorman in the 2010 Sollenberger Classic and beat the Gaels.

And then there’s the possibility that Hamilton has anticipated an AIA departure from its arrangement with the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA), figuring it might look to another state to provide the Sollenberger opponents – perhaps California, which generally boasts some of the nation’s better prep programs.

That’s a reasonable assumption after the drama that went on last year in preparation for the August game.  AIA officials were accused of ‘conspiring’ with the Nevada association to deliberately snub Bishop Gorman, and the media had a field day reporting the back-and-forth dealings between the two states.  So it probably wouldn’t surprise anyone if the AIA decided to look for a new partner.

California, however, may not be Hamilton’s preference.  The Huskies lost last year to Notre Dame High School from Sherman Oaks, which started Hamilton’s season with two straight losses following an opening upset by Mountain Pointe.