By and large, the Bell Game is an annual exhibition in stifling defense, tough-nosed, grind it out victories, and, as a result, gut-wrenching defeats.
That axiom could not have been epitomized any better than it was in Friday night's game at Chester Ray Stadium in the muck and mire complemented by a constant drizzle.
Marceline defeated Brookfield for the third consecutive season, holding onto the Bell with a 9-6 victory on a 23-yard Cullen Bruner field goal as time expired. After achieving just four first downs in the first 44 minutes of play, the Tigers doubled that number in a game-winning drive that began at their own 41-yard line.
"With the conditions the way they were, we didn't think we'd kick a whole lot of field goals, but we kept putting ourselves in a position where we still trusted Cullen to get it done," first-year Marceline coach Mark Ross said. "Across all of our special teams, really, we did an outstanding job. At the end, we were in a situation where we did enough to keep them off balance, and it shows our resilience. Our kids had a chip on their shoulders, and that last drive spoke volumes."
Just four-and-a-half minutes prior, Brookfield scored the game's only touchdown when Castor Dodd connected with Brandon Collins in the back of the endzone before a botched extra point attempt. That drive began at the Marceline 13-yard line as the result of a Bruner fumble before the junior totally and completely absolved himself a few minutes later.
Sixty percent of the game's scoring came in the final four-plus minutes.
The first half was best characterized by a rabid battle for field position halted only by costly Brookfield errors. Both teams moved the chains twice on their first drives, but for the remainder of the first half, the only other first down came after a Brookfield lost fumble at its own 40-yard line. A first-down pass from Chase Billups set up Bruner's first of three field goals, a 34-yard boot.
On the ensuing possession, Dodd threw an ill-advised pass on third-and-long for an Alex McCauslin interception return that brought Marceline to the Brookfield 15. Once again, the Tigers would have to settle for three points on a 29-yarder.
Following the kickoff, a would-be 82-yard Tim Izard touchdown rush was called back on a holding call. From that point until the final five minutes of the game, field position differential would be the apex of what either team would achieve.
There were nine total punts in the first half, and 15 in the game. The Bulldogs and Tigers combined for 4-of-24 on third down conversions.
For Marceline's Billups, Friday night was a special evening. His 69 passing yards in a 9-of-12 evening vaulted him to the career Marceline passing yardage record, and that achievement was completed on the dramatic final drive of the game.
"I'm grateful to have a team that supports me and helps me get that record, because it's not just me, it's us," the senior said. "We knew coming out of halftime, we'd have to come out fighting hard and be more prepared. We knew what was coming, and we were ready for this game."
Bruner led the Tigers in rushing with 62 yards, and Nick Cain finished with 25. Cain and junior McCauslin both reeled in three of Billups' passes for 27 and 25 yards, respectively.
Brookfield's Izard led his team in yardage with 47 yards on 20 carries. Dodd finished with 26 yards on nine rushes, and was 5-of-12 throwing the football for just six net yards.
In total, Marceline's offense out-produced Brookfield's 133 yards to 80.
"I'd probably have to say this one was number one on my list (of wins as a part of any coaching staff)," Ross admitted. "We had a great week of practice, and they played like it tonight. I'm very proud of them."
Brookfield hosts number-seven ranked Lexington next Friday.
Marceline travels to face a Fayette team that gave the Tigers some troubles in the first half of last season's game.
The Tigers -- the second-ranked Class 1 team in the state behind Westran -- advance to 3-0. The Bulldogs fall to 0-3 through three quarters of the most brutal four weeks of Class 2 football in the state. They have now allowed just seven, eight, and nine points in those consecutive weeks.
"Obviously, defensively we played pretty well," Brookfield second-year man Scott Stevens said. "Offensively, we did some okay things, but we have to be able to find consistency for a full football game. Marceline found a seam at the end of the game and were able to throw the ball on us, and we wish we could have that back. I'm not really sure what happened.
"We just have to find a way to score, and (coaches) Ken Polley and Dave Shaw have done a great job with our defense, but I think we can definitely get this offense turned around to get over that hump."