SANDY — Heading into this Saturday’s third annual XFINITY High School Football Challenge at Rio Tinto Stadium, tournament organizers hope this is the year they found the perfect mix of competition for Jordan and Alta.
Back in 2011, inferior competition was invited to the doubleheader in Utah, and the two Sandy City schools proceeded to crush Taft, Calif., and Notre Dame, N.J., by a combined score of 105-0. Both schools naturally requested that Real Salt Lake president Bill Manning go out and find tougher competition for the 2012 event.
He most certainly did.
Jordan proved up for the challenge, while Alta was not.
Jordan ended up losing a 34-33 heartbreaker to nationally ranked St. John Bosco, Calif., which is currently ranked No. 1 nationally by MaxPreps, while Alta simply couldn’t keep up with nationally acclaimed Don Bosco, N.J., falling 52-24.
Manning hopes this Saturday’s doubleheader at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. proves to be more competitive, a big reason Manning has made the XFINITY Challenge a priority of his through the years.
“More than anything, it’s seeing how we match up with teams from out of state. It brings a little something different than just playing teams in Utah every weekend. That’s really what it’s come down to,” said Manning.
Both Jordan and Alta head into Saturday’s games coming off disappointing losses to 4A schools last Friday, and rebound wins certainly won’t come easy.
Alta faces Allentown, N.J., at 2 p.m., and Manning said Allentown is an emerging public school in New Jersey that posted a 9-2 record last season.
The nightcap features Jordan vs. Bergen Catholic, N.J., a state runner-up last season and a program ranked in the top 100, according to MaxPreps. Bergen lost its season opener at No. 6 Curtis, La., last Saturday 24-13, and it appears to be the favorite against a Jordan team coming off last Friday’s 59-36 loss to East.
During the first two years of the XFINITY Challenge, Manning found a team from the East Coast and West Coast to participate. Scheduling a West Coast team proved difficult this year, and Allentown jumped at the challenge to fill in.
“When we couldn’t get a West Coast team I said let’s go back to Jersey because their state association has better rules for their teams to go out of state,” said Manning, who said it helps that the previous New Jersey participants have returned home and spoke glowingly about how the teams were treated.
Rio Tinto Stadium covers all the costs for the participating teams, and the festivities begin Thursday with a dinner at Rio Tinto Stadium for all four teams.
“Why are we doing all this?” said Manning. “Sandy City. Sandy City is part of this stadium.”
That’s why Alta and Jordan will be the Utah teams participating in future XFINITY Challenges, and why the two rivals will likely be playing their 2014 region game on the neutral field at Rio Tinto Stadium. Manning said he’s working on the mechanics and financial aspects with the principals of both schools, and said all parties are close to working out the details.
Manning said Rio Tinto Stadium would like to eventually host a couple of UHSAA state championship games as well, but added that four football games is the maximum the stadium grounds crew believes the field can support in a calendar year.