Favored Marceline brings back 'the bell' in rain

After heavy rain 'won' first half, Tigers blank host Brookfield 20-0 in second in 2021 'Bell Game'

By J. SAUCEDO, Special to the LCL
Quick penetration and a solid hit by Marceline High School football Tigers senior linebacker Hunter Nelson separates Brookfield running back Tommy Gunn from the already-wet ball during the first half of the Friday, Sept. 3, "Bell Game" between the Linn County high schools. Already moving in, anticipating putting their own "lick" on the ballcarrier, but about to adjust to trying to recover the fumble, are MHS'  Ryder Gooch (24) and Nathan Cupp  (71), while Mason Barnett (66) lurks nearby. Virtually the entire first half of the rivalry game was played in rain – at times very heavy, before the clouds closed up after halftime and Marceline scored all 2- of the game's points following intermission to recapture possession of the prize bell.

BROOKFIELD — Rivalries can last for generations.  In Missouri high school football there is no rivalry bigger than the annual “Bell Game” between the Marceline Tigers and the Brookfield Bulldogs.  This year, tensions run high with all of the optimism of a new season as the Tigers travel to the unfriendly confines of Brookfield’s Burlington Field.  With the confidence of a winning start, both teams enter the 86th annual Battle for the Bell Friday, Sept. 3, with a 1-0 record.

The rain clouds and the crowds of people roll in from every gate and overhead, steadily building a playoff-like excitement in the atmosphere.  The grandstand is at maximum capacity and it’s standing room only, along both sidelines and the north end zone.  The overcast reverberated the home team chants and the challenging replies from the visitors’ bleachers.  As both teams lined up for the kickoff, a heavy rain began to fall adding the final obstacle to the competition.

Both teams struggled early to adjust to the pouring down rain or gain any momentum.  On the opening drive for the Brookfield Bulldogs, on a second and nine from the 41 yard line, quarterback Colton Parn and running back Tommy Gunn fumble an exchange from the 45 that is recovered by Marceline on the 41 yard line, with 9:10 left in the first quarter. 

Through the first half, both defenses came in waves to drown each other’s offense in the wet and sloppy conditions.  Both defensive lines dominated with stout up front pressure, forcing quarterbacks to turn muddy corners and running backs to redirect on the slippery turf. 

The umbrella-filled bleachers continue to cheer and chant, unaffected by the weather, shaking their signs and screaming for their team.  With no solid production the Bulldogs offense is back on the field until Tigers safety, Jace Bixenman, forces a fumble recovered by defensive tackle, Nathan Cupp, to return the ball to Marceline.  That turnover stopped the Bulldogs on a second and 11, after what would have been a six yard run by Gunn, with 5:30 left in the second. 

The Bulldog offense with the ball, once again, produces the first solid drive of the game to get in scoring position from the nine yard line.  It’s third down with five to go from the nine yard line, 23.3 seconds left in the half and the Bulldogs offense comes out in a gun trips right formation.  Quarterback Colton Parn loses the snap just a little, fumbles around with it but quickly gets the ball under control.  However, the Tigers right defensive end, Brendon Catron, comes free around the corner, forcing Parn to roll to his right, where he sees #87, Trent Polley, all alone in the front corner of the end zone.  Parn winds up to throw with Catron steaming across the back field.  Just before he can get the throw off, Catron flying through the air with a swinging chop, forces a sack-fumble, taking Parn to the ground.  The Tigers recover the fumble.  The rain finally subsides as both teams head to the locker rooms with a score of 0-0 to end the first half.

Having received a good kickout block on the end to create a hole off right tackle, senior running back Tommy Gunn of the Brookfield High School football Bulldogs finds running space in the early going of the Friday, Sept. 3, "Bell Game" battle between BHS and visiting Marceline. Marceline's defense, however, limited the yardage on the play to a modest amount and surrendered only about 190 yards of total offense all night in the rain-plagued game, which MHS won 20-0 to reclaim "the bell" after BHS wins the past two years.

After a rain-free half time, the skies turn back on again, to bring down the heavy rain as both teams line up for the second half kickoff.  Both teams are still bringing great energy, still trying to make plays through the wet conditions.  The Tigers manage a long methodical drive capped off by a short run to put up the first six points of the game.  Followed by an extra point, the Tigers lead 7-0 with 8:35 left in the third quarter.

The Bulldogs get the ball after a short return and answer back with a drive of their own.  They cross the 50 yard line but with free-running Tigers defensive lineman, the Bulldogs back field starts to slow down, once again.  Only able to inch toward the 30, play after play.  On a fourth and three from the 25, the Bulldogs keep the drive alive by converting on a run, for the first down.  Then quarterback Colton Parn fights to get the Bulldogs in scoring position with a ten yard run, up the middle, down to the eleven yard line.  It’s first and ten from the eleven and against heavy pressure, Parn drops back and hit’s a Bulldogs receiver in the chest, but the ball goes in complete.  Trying to even the score, the Bulldogs line up, second and ten from the eleven yard line.  Heavy pressure from the Tigers defense again and Parn scrambles wide to his right where he is sacked, fumbles, once again and Marceline recovers the ball. 

Having used blocks from Mason Barnett (66) and Nathan Cupp  (71) to slip to the perimeter, senior running back Hunter Nelson of the Marceline High School football Tigers tries to determine how best to try to elude Brookfield Bulldogs linebacker Amos Baum during the first quarter of the Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, "Bell Game" rivalry contest between the teams at Brookfield's Burlington Field. After heavy rain through much of the first half left the thousands of fans in attendance and the teams and officials drenched, the Tigers posted three second-half touchdowns to recapture "the bell" by a 20-0 count.

Now the Tigers offense moves the chains until it’s second and ten from their own 43 yard line, with 10:15 left in the fourth quarter.  Lined up in a flanker tight, shot gun formation, the Tigers run a reverse to Jace Bixenman, that gets forced right up the middle and goes for a 57 yard, untouched, touchdown run.  The extra point is good and it’s now 14-0 with 10:03 left in the game.

With the Tigers having all of the momentum, the Bulldogs offense tries to fight back in to the game.  After moving the chains a couple of times with short passes to Gambal Staddie and Jaden Abongo, the Bulldogs offense drive eventually ends with a punt and the Tigers offense is back on the field.

After some good defense by the Bulldogs, the Tigers offense finds themselves in a fourth and eighteen situation with 2:23 left in the game.  With nothing to lose, the Tigers line up in a Pistol, Trips, Right formation.   Tigers quarterback Jacob Stallo drops back and pumps to the right, allows the Bulldogs right defensive end to get washed up field by the offensive tackle, scrambles to his left and throws a big pass, on the run, hitting Samuel Gillman at the goal line for a 29 yard touchdown pass.  The extra point is no good, leaving the Tigers with a score of 20-0 with 2:16 left in the game.

After the return, the Bulldogs fight themselves back into scoring position once again, but are stopped with 0:43 seconds left in the game, for a final score of 20-0.

As the clock winds down the Marceline student body begins to pile up near the north fence line.  5-4-3-2-1 and when the clock hits all zeros, they rush on to the field victorious, with all of that Missouri, home town pride.  That pride that the Marceline Tigers used to battle for a road rival victory, in heavy rain and wet terrain.   The Tigers pride stayed cheering and chanting, all taking turns ringing that victory bell.

Brookfield High School football Bulldogs sophomore quarterback Colton Parn fires a quick pass toward teammate Jaden Abongo (partially obscured by Parn) and over the head of a Marceline pass rusher during the Friday, Sept. 3, "Bell Game" between the Linn County schools at Burlington Field in Brookfield. The competition somewhat marred by substantial rain during most of the first half, the contest was scoreless into the second half before Marceline produced three touchdowns and won back "the bell" by a 20-0 count.

“Worst downpour I’ve ever coached in,” MHS fourth-year head coach Mark Ross assessed, incorporating his couple of years as a head coach prior to arriving in Marceline in that evaluation.

“We are proud of our guys for fighting through the conditions to find a way to get the win.”

“Lost a tough one,” rookie BHS head coach Cory Luke reflected, after his initial first-hand exposure to the Linn County grudge match that, despite the rain, attracted its normal multiple-thousands fans who both filled the bleachers and ringed the field itself.

“We made some improvements, but it still was a gut-wrenching loss.”

Statistically, Marceline out-gained its host by about 100 yards (282-188 by MHS count).

Individually, Bixenman rushed for 71 yards on only four carries, his occasional big pickups complementing Hunter Nelson’s 95 workhorse yards on 25 carries for the victors.

Brookfield (1-1) had 51 rushing yards on 21 attempts by Parn and 49 yards on 15 attempts by Tommy Gunn as the Marceline defense and the playing conditions made it tough sledding for the Bulldogs’ transitioning attack, which heavily integrates quick, short passes that require sure footing, quick breaks, and an easily-grasped pigskin, none of which were easily available on this night.

In the air, Stallo found his target eight times in 14 tries for 91 total yards, 46 of which came from Gillman on three receptions, Ross reports.

According to BHS’ Luke, Jaden Abongo latched onto half of the eight throws Parn completed, gaining 29 yards on the four catches. Kendrell Carter had a pair of receptions for 17 yards as Parn finished eight of 16 for 46 yards. He was intercepted once.

Marceline moves on to visit Quincy, Ill.’s, Notre Dame High in week three. Brookfield begins Clarence Cannon Conference competition at Centralia.