MISSOULA — Even without the history between the two schools, Loyola Sacred Heart has had this week's football showdown with Fairfield circled on its calendar for some time.
The Rams will head to Fairfield to take on the Eagles in a Week 2 test and a rematch of 2018's Class B state title match. The teams met twice last season with Fairfield winning both contests.
But even without trying to redeem falling short to Fairfield twice, Loyola knows that under any circumstance, a matchup with the Eagles is a good barometer in seeing where they're at as the season hits full swing.
"Fairfield's always a playoff-caliber team year-in and year-out," Loyola coach Todd Hughes said. "We'd like to go up there and put our best foot forward and see what happens."
Loyola and Fairfield have been perennial Class B contenders over the past decade and beyond. The Eagles have appeared in the state championship game eight times since 2005 with victories in 2011, 2015 and 2018. The Rams have been in the state title game five times since 2006 — including twice in the past two seasons — with wins in 2012 and 2013.
So add in the history and it makes Friday's contest all the more intriguing.
Loyola graduated eight seniors while Fairfield also lost plenty of talent. The Eagles had six players named all-state, including their quarterback Ryder Meyer, who now suits up for the Grizzlies.
"Our kids are prepared for it," Hughes said. "They taste the loss. It's not so much that it's Fairfield, it's just that we lost the state championship and that probably stings the worst.
"We have a ton of respect for Fairfield and Les (Meyer) and his coaching staff. They're always going to be a measuring stick for us no matter what."
Loyola opened the season with a big win over Huntley Project, 25-20, at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, the third straight season the two schools have met there. Friday's game will serve as Fairfield's season-opener. Loyola came in ranked No. 1 in the first 406mtsports.com high school football poll, while Fairfield sits at No. 2.
Games against schools like Huntley Project and Fairfield are exactly the challenge Hughes likes early in the non-conference portion of the season, and so far, it has worked out well for Loyola.
"I think it pays off tremendously," Hughes said. "We get a pretty good test and we see how we match up with the best on the other side of the state."
Missoula Hellgate will open its 2019 season after a bye in the opener with a home game against Billings Skyview (0-1). The Falcons fell to Kalispell Glacier 47-6 last week to begin the season.
Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Missoula County Stadium in the first of a doubleheader on Friday night. Hellgate is coming off of a 2-8 season but has 23 seniors on the roster this year and returns nine starters on offense and eight on defense.
Missoula Sentinel will immediately follow that game with a home matchup against Billings Senior (0-1). The Broncs were edged out by Helena Capital (1-0) last week 35-30.
Sentinel (1-0), which opened the season ranked No. 4 in the 406mtsports.com rankings, defeated Great Falls High 26-15. Senior Jaxon Lee ran the ball 19 times for 221 yards and three touchdowns while junior Dayton Bay threw for 122 yards and one score, finding junior TJ Rausch for the touchdown. Senior Preston Jones caught five passes for 63 yards.
Kickoff between Sentinel and Senior is set for 7:30 p.m.
Missoula Big Sky will hit the road this week. The Eagles (0-1) will take on Bozeman (1-0) at 7 p.m. on Friday.
The Eagles are coming off of a 41-6 loss to defending Class AA champion Billings West (1-0). The Hawks topped Kalispell Flathead 35-0 to begin the season. Bozeman is ranked No. 5 in this week's football rankings.
Valley Christian will take on Shields Valley for its second game of the year. The Eagles (1-0) defeated Reed Point-Rapelje 48-24 last week behind three touchdown runs from Tyler Gann. Gann also caught a score from Eyan Becker while Roman Becker scored twice as well.
Shields Valley beat Sheridan 51-8 last Friday. Valley Christian is ranked No. 9 in the 406mtsports.com poll while Shields Valley is No. 10. The two teams will kickoff at 7 p.m. on Friday in Alberton.