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Preview: High school football season starts Sept. 1 without public vs. private games

No public versus private schools matchups, some Thursday night games and one giant Class AA division are among the highlights of the Section VI football schedule released by coordinator Ken Stoldt on Wednesday.

The season kicks off Friday, Sept. 1 with 25 games among Section VI Federation members. The slate includes a clash between reigning section champions Lancaster (Class AA) and Bennett (Class A) at Lancaster.

That is a game between Class AA foes as Bennett not only survived a phase-out plan in which its athletic identity was supposed to fade away but will now move up a division as a merged outfit that includes several other Buffalo Public Schools without teams. Bennett's partners are Olmsted, Middle Early College, East, Lafayette, Riverside and Alternative School.

While last year's late transfer of All-Western New York first team lineman Jeremiah Sanders from South Park to Bishop Timon-St. Jude after Scrimmage Saturday upset several coaches, Stoldt said the section left it up to its member schools as to whether they wanted to fill any non-league dates with Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association programs.

"Neither the section or football committee has made a statement you can't play a Catholic school," Stoldt said.

For at least this season, there won't be any such matchups following a 2016 in which three took place during opening weekend. Three years ago, a rarely seen champion versus champion clash with Canisius visiting then Section VI Class AA champ Jamestown drew roughly 6,000 fans to Strider Field in Jamestown. Both teams went on to win state titles that season.

South Park, which scheduled one private school each of the past four seasons, is using its one non-league opening for a road trip. The Sparks travel to Pittsburgh, Pa. to face Perry Tradition Academy on Saturday, Sept. 16.

2017 Section VI football schedule

A situation that bears monitoring, though, is the number of teams in the area that scheduled Friday night home games. Some of those games may wind up moving to Thursday or Saturday nights because there aren't enough officials to staff all the prime-time games on the same night during most weeks.

As it is, there are three weeks (two, four and five) that feature at least one Thursday game with four slated for Week Five, including a 4:30 p.m. clash at Kenmore West with the Blue Devils facing Williamsville South.

The struggle to find enough officials to cover Friday nights is a trend that could get worse before it gets better. Kenmore East is among the latest teams to make the move from Saturday to Friday night home games as it debuts renovated, fully-lighted Sparky Adams Field after moving its home games to Tonawanda last year. The Bulldogs play their first two games at home, beginning with Week One's 7 p.m. clash against Grand Island.

"Not many (teams) want to play on Saturdays," Stoldt said.

Meanwhile there are alignment changes with perhaps the biggie being Class AA moving from a two-division format to one 11-team division in which each team plays six league games. Some schools won't face each other, as eight teams make the playoffs.

That happens often in Class A, which has tiebreakers in place to determine playoff seeding in the event teams didn't face each other during the regular season. The difference: Class A is two eight-team divisions in which four from each make the playoffs.

"We're going to give this a try," Stoldt said.

Other items of note: