New England doesn't have to wait for hockey season to have a big game this school year.
Saturday afternoon's football game between Brockton (Mass.) High and Westwood (Mass.) Xaverian Brothers is as big as it gets.
"It's the biggest non-district rivalry game in our region," Xaverian Brother coach Charlie Stevenson said. "These are two of the most storied programs in the state."
The teams are also the two top-rated teams in the region, both receiving RivalsHigh 100 consideration. The winner may very well earn a spot in the rankings - an unusual position for the area.
Brockton, the current No. 1 team in New England, holds a narrow advantage over the region's second-ranked team, Xaverian, despite the recent success Xaverian has had in the series.
The all-time series is tied at 13 wins apiece, but Xaverian has won 12 of the last 19 meetings including both of last year's games - both by seven points.
The second win against Brockton came in the state semifinals and helped propel the Hawks to a 13-0 finish with one of the most difficult schedules in the country and a No. 81 ranking in the RivalsHigh 100.
"Xaverian made you guys (at RivalsHigh) look very good last season," Brockton coach Peter Colombo said. "Hopefully this season we will be able to navigate our schedule the way they did last season."
That quest will be tested this week.
The game will be a contrast in styles.
Brockton returns nine starters on offense and likes to be a high flying, explosive offense. Xaverian brings back seven on defense and locks down opponents forcing good field position for a more conservative attack.
Both teams are 2-0 on the season. Both totaled 59 points in the opening weeks. Both have a lot of respect for the other.
"We started with two shutouts," Stevenson said. "And we played good defense in both games. We will need to play exceptional defense to win this week."
Some - such as Xaverian's opponent last week, Waltham (Mass.) High - may argue the Hawks already are playing exceptional defense. Waltham did not advance beyond its own 40 yard line.
That is not to say Brockton is a slouch on defense. The team did not allow more than 21 points in a game last season and has only allowed 12 points so far this season. Leading the way defensively is Albert Louis-Jean, a Miami (Fla.) commit, and Davidson Barthelmy.
Colombo, however, is not a believer that a team with more blue-chip players is guaranteed a victory.
"We will have to see how we come out and play together," he said. "Teams everywhere are more than just the sum of their 40 times. Or bench press. Or scholarship offers."
Not that this series is devoid of talent by any means.
"People who are not in this region may not realize it, but there are dozens of NFL players that played in this game," Stevenson said. "There are at least three dozen more NCAA Division I players and countless I-AA players, too.
The most notable of which would be the Hasselbeck brothers - Matt and Tim - who each played quarterback in the NFL.
"I understand it is tough to convince people of it, but both of these teams work as hard as anyone to stay on top."
"We can play with anyone from here to California," he said. "There is great football in a lot of places, but teams here have shown that they can go to Ohio, Jersey, or Pennsylvania and win. Xaverian has done it, we have done it. People just underestimate how competitive the football has become up here."
With a national game spotlight shining bright on both teams, each has a chance to separate from the pack - if only for a short time.
"If we really are the best two teams in the state, we will see each other later in the season," Stevenson said.
But both want that early leg up on the competition.
XAVERIAN BROTHERS RB Joe Colton (5-10/185, Sr.)
LB Chris Tamasi (6-0/205, Sr.)
QB Chris Calvanese (6-3/195, Sr.)
BROCKTON DB Albert Louis-Jean (6-1/172, Sr.)
QB Paul Mroz (6-1/190, Sr.)
RB Trevon Offley (5-6/175, Sr.)
DT William Carruthers (6-3/300, Sr.)
WR Ralph Cherry (6-1/215, Sr.)
WHEN: Saturday 9/25, 1:30 pm
LAST MEETING: 12/01/09, Xaverian Brothers won 21-14.
STANDINGS: Brockton (2-0), No. 1 in Massachusetts Xaverian Brothers (2-0), No. 2 in Massachusetts
BROCKTON WINS IF: The Boxers can break the pressure of Xaverian's defense. Xaverian brings back a complete secondary, two linebackers and a lineman from last year's team that shut down a nearly-identical Brockton offense twice. Brockton likes to be balanced but explosive on the offensive side of the ball. Getting a few early first downs to make sure the field position doesn't favor Xaverian all afternoon will be a key at the outset. Xaverian has not been scored on yet, but it has not seen a team like Brockton yet either.
XAVERIAN WINS IF: It can score more than three touchdowns. The Hawks return a lot on defense but lost even more on offense and it could be a struggle to move the ball. If the team can put up 21 points or more, it has an excellent chance of winning. The offensive line will need to play very well to protect a rookie quarterback. Whether or not the offense can do that or not will end up as the deciding factor in the game for Xaverian.
PREDICTION: The two teams are very familiar with one another and so are the coaches. This game should be exceptionally equal. One team should not run and hide; both had better be ready for a 48-minute fight. The difference in this game could come down to which team has more playmakers if something does break down defensively. It appears, on paper anyways, that edge would go to Brockton. One team will come away with a 14-13 advantage in a series that has been played annually since 1988. The other gets a cheat sheet on how to overcome its mistakes in case there is a next time. - Brockton 20, Xaverian 10