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How Long Does a High School Football Game Last?

Does anything compare to chilling with your closest friends while rooting on your high school football team on chilly Friday nights in the Fall? 

The football games seemed to fly by so quickly. They couldn’t have lasted more than thirty minutes, right?

Ah, those were the days.

Good times. Good times.

In this article, I explain how long a high school football game lasts, justify this seemingly inordinate amount of time, and delineate those circumstances when a football contest indeed does fly by.

Key Takeaways

  • A high school football contest requires, on average, between two and two-and-one-half hours to complete.
  • Halftime, overtimes, and clock stoppages result in relatively long games.
  • Contests between two predominant running teams or severely mismatched opponents might result in early endings.

How Long Does a High School Football Game Last?

A high school football game requires between two and two-and-one-half hours to complete. [1]

In all fifty states and the District of Columbia, regular season varsity high school football games are 48 minutes long, with four twelve-minute quarters.

However, such remarkable unanimity is a recent phenomenon, as until 2019, high school football contests in Massachusetts had a length of 44 minutes, 11 minutes per quarter. [2

Nonetheless, this begs the question of why a 48-minute football game requires 150 minutes to resolve.


Halftime is a twenty-minute intermission between all football contests’ second and third quarters.

In high school, halftime is twenty minutes in length.

It allows both teams and players to retreat to their respective locker rooms and make any necessary adjustments to emerge triumphant at the game’s conclusion.


If a game is tied at the end of regulation, the teams will play into an overtime period, the same as the NFL.

But unlike the pro game, there are no ties in high school football at the end of the first overtime frame; overtime periods are untimed, and numerous overtime periods may be necessary to complete the game.

Multiple overtime periods and the breaks in-between said periods can rapidly increase the game’s length, much like a New York City cab driver’s fare meter while taking the scenic route to your destination.

In high school overtimes, while the precise placement of the ball and the number of overtimes allowed vary by state, all assume the following format:

In each overtime period, teams have one possession starting at the opponent’s 25-yard line unless a penalty occurs that moves them back on the field. 

Each team keeps the ball until it fails to score, fails to make a first down, or turns the ball over. [3]

Suppose the score remains tied after each team completes one series of downs in an overtime period. In that case, both teams repeat the procedure with additional overtime periods until a game-winner is determined. [4]

Note that some states continue to play until a winner is resolved, while others establish a limit on the number of overtimes that teams may play and, once that limit is reached, declare the game to be a “draw.” 

For example, no high school football game in Ohio may end in a draw. Hence, there is no limit regarding the number of overtime periods:

“If the score remains tied after each team has been on offense in an OT Period, then play more OT periods until a winner is determined.” [5]

However, in NJ, only three overtime periods are permitted in the regular season before the contest results in a tie:

“During the regular season member schools must use the 25 yd. line in the Football Overtime Tie-Breaking Procedure when a scheduled varsity game ends in a tie. If a tie remains after each team has played three (3) series, the results will remain a tie.” [6]

In-Game Stoppages

While the game clock reads “12:00” at the start of each quarter and counts down towards “0:00” to signal the end of the quarter, this countdown does not occur uninterrupted.

The following events throughout the football contest all result in the temporary stoppage of the game clock, thus, prolonging the game:

Additional Factors

The factors mentioned above all serve to increase your time commitment at a high school football game.

And by and large, these elements are ubiquitous in all football games and are accounted for.

However, two variables may reduce the length of a high school football game.

Game Script

Above I mentioned that incomplete passes result in clock stoppages, and for the overwhelming majority of high school football games, there are no shortages of incompletions.

Imagine if a football team rarely passed the football, preferring to overwhelm their opponents with a massive offensive line and a run-centric offensive game plan.

As these in-field tackles accumulate, the game clock will appear to run continuously, significantly reducing the game’s length from start to finish.

Mercy Rule

Due to a significant talent disparity between high school football teams, some high school football games become lopsided in a hurry and demoralize youngsters just learning to play the game.

To prevent this, many states, though not all, allow a mercy rule to minimize how out-of-hand a high school football blowout can get.

A mercy rule is a method to either end the game or speed the game up when one team builds a seemingly insurmountable lead against another team. [7]

Most mercy rules in high school football do not end the game but instead, call for a running clock.

A running clock prevents all of the aforementioned in-game stoppages other than injuries and times-out.

Final Thoughts

At the beginning of this composition, I questioned how a 48-minute football game necessitates 150 minutes of real-time to reconcile.

After reading this article, I hope that no questions remain.



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