We got it!’ ‘We want it’ – ‘Bell Game’ time again Friday
Brookfield hopes to extend possession of rivalry symbol to three years against visiting foe
By PAUL STURM, LCL Sports Editor
For the Marceline High School football Tigers and their fans, “the bell” – long-time symbol of supremacy in their Linn County football rivalry with western neighbor Brookfield – might as well have been in the mountains of Afghanistan the past two years, not only 10 miles away. After two years without it, they’re ready to mount a rescue mission, regardless of the distance involved.
For Brookfield High’s Bulldogs and their faithful, the prize of the game informally voted about a decade ago the “best” high school gridiron rivalry in all of the United States has resided comfortably in a place of honor and they see no reason to disturb it.
One or the other will feel jubilation late this Friday night; the other will be disconsolate, but will have to “move on” and look for other achievements it can gain through the remainder of the 2021 season.
Come 7 p.m. Friday, venerable Burlington Field at Brookfield will be bursting at the seams with people and emotion and anticipation as the latest “Bell Game” between the host Bulldogs and guest Tigers kicks off.
Both will enter with “scary” 1-0 records after combining to outscore their opening-week opponents during regulation time by a combined one point last Friday.
While Marceline, perhaps counting its chickens prematurely and thinking ahead to this Friday’s Bell battle, surprisingly was nipping Scotland County only 19-18 on the road, Brookfield was finishing four quarters against visiting Trenton – a winless team in 2020 – in a dead heat in the heat, tied 12-12. Fortunately for the blue-and-white ’Dogs, overtime with THS brought a defensive stop and then a 20-yards touchdown run that gave new head coach Cory Luke a memorable triumph in his first try.
The other backdrop for this week’s encounter-group session beyond each 2021 squad barely standing 1-0 is the result of their head-to-head clash 12 months back.
With Marceline at home and having a bunch of experienced and talented juniors motivated to reclaim the prize Brookfield had reclaimed in 2019, a tough, down-to-the-wire contest was projected. However, as happens in rivalry games everywhere, what is anticipated often gives way to something quite different as predicted runaways prove to be nailbiters and games expected to be tight turn into runaways.
The latter proved to be the case in 2020 when Brookfield, far below .500 overall each of the preceding three years, broke away from a 7-7 tie in the second quarter to post the last 35 points posted on the Chester Ray Stadium scoreboard and win, 42-7, keeping the bell for a second year in a row. BHS rode that momentum to a 5-4 regular-season mark and its first non-losing season since 2016.
As the once-a-year affair is renewed this Friday, it’s Brookfield with the younger squad, but its group doesn’t have the degree of game experience Marceline’s 2020 team had. The Tigers, meanwhile, have every starter back from their Class 1 state quarterfinalists.
In terms of proven playmakers, savvy and seasoning, the scales seemingly are tipped far to the MHS side, but that’s only what it says on paper or in sound waves or digitally. The true answer will come on the grass and history strongly suggests that the unexpected cannot be ignored.
Having gone through the battle three times now, MHS head coach Mark Ross sizes up his team’s task this way:
“Although Brookfield lost a lot of key components from last year's team, they have a lot of returning athletes with experience and good size. They also have a new head coach, but most of the staff has remained intact and that experience is always key in a big game like this.
“Regardless of rankings, staff changes, new faces, etc. it is still the ‘Bell Game’ and anything can happen. Our kids are working hard to prepare for the game and we're excited for the opportunity to bring the bell back to Marceline.”
The LCL reached out to Luke for his assessment of Friday’s contest, but no reply was received in time for inclusion in this article. Understandably, he likely had other things on his mind.