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Harvard Cup kicks off shorter season

Last weekend was a triumphant one for all of Western New York's defending scholastic football champions.

Well, everyone except Riverside, but the Frontiers had a good reason for not joining in the pomp and circumstance surrounding the official start of the season.

The defending Harvard Cup champions weren't scheduled to play because their league is once again kicking it old school, which means none of the Cup's brethren play until Week Two.

Mandatory state budget cuts eliminated a game from each team's schedule throughout the state. The Harvard Cup's scheduled opening for one nonleague game a season wound up being a budget casualty, prompting the later start.

That means Harvard Cup opening-week matchups, like this afternoon's Grover Cleveland-Hutch-Tech clash and Saturday's Riverside-Burgard showdown, will have to suffice in determining whether any of the league's playoff hopefuls has the potential to play on Thanksgiving Day.

"A lot of teams would rather face a good team early in the season rather than later," said Grover coach Tony Alessi, who has eight returning starters from last year's Harvard Cup runner-up team.

The season begins with this afternoon's 5 p.m. Hutch-Tech-Grover clash at All High Stadium (Radio 1440 AM, online: wjjl.com and nhsbn.com). The game is a rematch of last year's playoff semifinal, which Grover won, 20-8.

Riverside and Burgard play at 12:30 p.m. Saturday as the middle game of a tripleheader that begins at 10 a.m. with McKinley facing Bennett.

Burgard may be the smallest school in the league, but it traditionally contends for the title. That's why Riverside coach Tony Truilizio said his team's opener will let him know if the Frontiers are ready for their title defense. After winning the Cup in 2004, the Frontiers failed to make the playoffs the following year even though current Syracuse star receiver Mike Williams was on the team.

"By playing Burgard early, it'll tell us as a coaching staff how prepared we are for the season," Truilizio said.

e-mail: mrodriguez@buffnews.com

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