Friday’s ’Bell Game’ Shapes Up As Ring-a-ding Dandy
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
All things considered, there probably isn’t a lot the combatants could have done last Friday to prime the pump for this Friday’s annual “Bell Game” any more than they did.
The latest annual renewal of the high school football game voted, about a decade ago, the nation’s best, is set for Chester Ray Stadium at Marceline Friday as the host MHS Tigers welcome their western next-door neighbor, the Brookfield Bulldogs.
At stake for the victor, as it has been for decades and decades, is a year’s possession of “the bell,” symbol of supremacy in the in-county gridiron grudge match.
Right now, Brookfield possesses it, having unexpectedly prevailed at home, 14-7, last year in a season which ultimately would see the Bulldogs finish 2-8 and Marceline go 12-2. The Tigers’ only other 2019 loss was in the Class 1 state semifinals.
The two squads will enter this year’s week 2 battle royal with 1-0 records after shiny season-starting victories.
Senior-heavy Brookfield went on the road last Friday and overwhelmed Trenton both offensively and defensively, posting a 50-0 conquest. Marceline, meanwhile, was unleashing a torrent of underclassmen and receiving an impressive starting debut from junior quarterback Jacob Stallo (12 of 23 for 183 yards and three touchdowns) in a key Lewis and Clark Conference over Scotland County. That score was 26-14.
“These guys have been working hard all offseason and it was great to see them start fast,” lauded Scott Stevens, fourth-year BHS head coach, after his squad thumped his alma mater.
"We're incredibly proud of the way the boys played,” summarized Mark Ross, Tigers third-year skipper.
In looking ahead to the bragging rights clash, Ross remarks, “The boys are excited. … This is a game they look forward to every year.
“With the game being in week 2 this season, it gives you less film to study, but we feel like we have a great game plan going into this week that the boys are excited about.”
Stevens offers, “The ‘Bell Game’ is always a very competitive game and I know both teams will be working hard all week to bring home the bell.”
Brookfield’s home victory last year halted Marceline’s 3-years hold on the trophy. That followed a Bulldogs stranglehold on it the first six years of the past decade.
With, at least at the time of the filing of this story, no restrictions on crowd size at the Marceline stadium (social distancing will be requested and encouraged as much as possible), Friday’s duel figures to lure the customary huge crowd.
Because of the intensity of the rivalry, the games tend to be close, often low-scoring, and regularly down to the wire.
Strategically, Brookfield almost surely will try to control the game with its running attack and, with a slightly-older core group, greater physical maturity. Marceline, the smaller school with the younger squad that should continue wreaking havoc in its conference and around the region in the Class 1 ranks the next two years at least, probably will try to be more balanced on offense, although without playing too riskily.
While the “Bell Game” hogs most of the attention, week two of the 2020 season will be important to most of the rest of the 10 C-T-area squads because they’ll be looking to avoid beginning with a losing streak.
Of the other eight squads, only two – Southwest Livingston’s and Norborne/Hardin-Central’s 8-man clubs – posted opening triumphs.
Southwest’s Wildcats will have another strong test when they have their home debut against South Holt/Nodaway-Holt’s well-regarded Spartans. It will be a duel of the current Nos. 3- (SH/N-H) and 4-ranked teams in the state in 8-man, each having advanced a spot after week one wins.
SLHS’ post-Mack Anderson pigskin era was inaugurated well at Fairfax Sunday as transfer Wes Hughes, a former Ludlow-area resident whose family moved back into the district earlier this year, stepped in at quarterback and threw a handful of touchdown passes in a 54-30 road decision over East Atchison.With Hughes added to a strong contingent of holdovers like Chase Neptune, Jaeden Sears, Patrick Warren, Owen Oesch, and others, it appears there won't be a large fall-off, if any, from the level coach Oren Magruder's Southwest/Hale/Tina-Avalon co-op squad played at last year.
East Atchison had walloped the Wildcats at Ludlow in last year’s opener on its way to going 10-1 last year and was ranked No. 3 in the preseason rankings, but couldn't keep pace with Southwest Livingston this time.
In the SH/N-H Spartans, Oren Magruder’s ’Cats will face a team which – surprisingly to some – had been No. 4 in the preseason rankings, despite only a 6-4 record in ’19.
South Holt/Nodaway-Holt demonstrated last Friday why some pre-valued them so heavily, beginning the new season with a shocking 78-22 decimation of No. 2 Worth County on the road.
It looks like they’d better make sure the scoreboard batteries are well-charged at the Ludlow field for this one.
Norborne/Hardin-Central will try to advance to 2-0 when it welcomes Orrick, a 32-14 opening-week victim of Concordia: St. Paul Lutheran in the Saints’ premiere as an 8-man program. N/H-C’s young Aggies had no problem blowing past exhausted Kansas City, Kan.: East Christian Academy in its week one action.
The rest of the area team’s want to balance the books this week after dropping their 2020 debuts.
Completing the 8-man scene, Braymer’s Bobcats will be St. Paul Lutheran’s opponent this week with BHS playing its home opener. St. Paul went 1-9 in 11-man ball last year, defeating only Mexico’s Missouri Military Academy, but immediately had better fortunes as a downsized squad.
Meanwhile, Keytesville/Mendon: Northwestern’s Thunder gets a week off from game play because planned foe Chilhowee decided a few weeks ago not to put a team in competition this fall, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among 11-man clubs, Hamilton: Penney stays on the road for the second of three times at season’s start, although it’s journey will be quite short. The Hornets move north up Missouri Highway 13 to meet long-time rival Gallatin’s Bulldogs, 58-0 trouncers of North Platte last Friday.
“We came out of the (loss at Higginsville) healthy, as far as I can tell,” Obert shared with the C-T. “We will have to be ready for a tough Gallatin team.”
Smacked hard by alumnus Scott Stevens’ band of Brookfield Bulldogs in their home opener, Trenton’s Bulldogs are licking their wounds and hoping for a better fate at Gower against East Buchanan this week. “East Buck” likely has other plans, though, after battling past THS’ fellow Grand River Conference-East member South Harrison 34-28. South Harrison was the preseason favorite of many to win the GRC-East with Trenton picked sixth out of eight.
Speaking of trying to regain its equilibrium, Carrollton will journey south to Sweet Springs, hoping to find its game after Fayette stunned it 42-8 at home in week one. Sweet Springs got off to a smart start, despite a long, long trip, dispatching Knox County at Edina 40-8 last Friday. With their challenging Missouri River Valley Conference-East 5-games slate the latter half of the regular season, the Trojans need to reverse course quickly of suffer the district-pairings and travel consequences in the postseason.
Rounding out the C-T-area scene this week, Polo journeys to Slater after a tough-to-swallow 7-0 opening loss in which the only points came in the game’s first minute after the Panthers fumbled away the opening kickoff. Slater will be playing its season and home opener.