Football headed to UNH

It’s time for New Hampshire high school football fans to rejoice.

If you’ve wanted the opportunity to watch all of the state’s football championship games, you finally will in 2014, hopefully.

The NHIAA, along with the University of New Hampshire, announced Monday morning that the school will host all three of the 2014 high school football championship games on Nov. 22, a day both entities dubbed as “Super Saturday.”

“We are excited to expand our partnership with UNH athletics to include this Super Saturday of high school football at Cowell Stadium,” NHIAA executive director R. Patrick Corbin said in a press release sent out by the school. “Many of our high school championships are already decided at our state’s university, and we look forward to giving our football athletes an opportunity to play at what will soon be the state’s premier football facility.”

Cowell Stadium is set to undergo $25 million worth of upgrades and renovations, starting with the addition of lights. The entire project is expected to be done by 2015.

“It is an honor to partner with the NHIAA to bring all three high school football championships to our campus for one Super Saturday,” UNH director of athletics Marty Scarano said in the same release. “The addition of lights has made it possible to make the ‘Road to Durham’ the goal of all Granite State high school football teams and fans. We hope this becomes an annual event that will only increase in excitement with the impending arrival of the state-of-the-art West Stadium in 2015.”

This will mark the first time New Hampshire’s high school football championships will be played at a neutral site. Football is the only sport sponsored by the NHIAA where the higher seeded team hosts a championship game. Typically, all the championship games have been scheduled to take place at the same time at different locations.

“It’s about time,” Milford football coach Keith Jones said. “We’ve been asking for it for years. It makes it a little better for those of us who like to see all the championship games. Now you can see them. I’m certainly in favor.”

Merrimack coach Dante Laurendi agreed, adding that it would be a special experience for the teams that advance that far.

“It’ll create more excitement the day of the game,” Laurendi said. “They go out there and they’re on a nice, college facility. There will be more energy. A lot of times, you’re playing in a stadium you’ve already played at, and some of those are not suited to host that type of game.”

Laurendi, who was an assistant at Nashua North when the Titans played in back-to-back title games at Salem and Pinkerton, also thought it might level the playing field for the title game as well.

Last season, the home teams won all three championships. In 2011 and 2012, when six champions were crowned, the home team won four of the six games. The home teams won five out of six in 2010.

“I don’t know if a home-field advantage comes into play (in championship games), but you don’t have a feeling of neutrality,” Laurendi said. “The attendance will increase. The people who are real football fans will go see their team, but they’ll also be interested in seeing different teams.”

The NHIAA has tried this before.

Two years ago, the NHIAA had talks with Saint Anselm College about holding six championship games over two weekends, but that plan eventually fell through.

In 2007, there were plans to hold the championship games – at that time, there were five divisions – at Stellos Stadium, William Ball Stadium at Exeter High School and Hanover High School, but that was scratched midway through the season.

This plan with UNH feels like a done deal, if for no other reason, than the way it was announced, Laurendi said.

Jones is hopeful a Super Saturday will happen in New Hampshire, but is still skeptical.

“We thought it was a done deal before, and then it changed,” he said. “I’m excited about it. The kids would get to play at a quality facility. Playing on turf takes the weather stuff out of it. It’s good for football that the games are at one place.”