This year marks the latest incarnation of the eternal Bell Game rivalry. The Brookfield Bulldogs and Marceline Tigers have done battle on the gridiron since 1922, and always seem to bring their collective “A” games for this contest each year.
This year seems more special, though, and certainly has gotten even more buzz locally. This is due to the rivalry winning USA Today's Best High School Rivalry Competition. Since February, locals have been practically salivating at the thought of this game being played on a “national” stage.
The visiting Marceline Tigers are 2-0, and are coming into the Bell Game from a 50-0 drubbing of the Schuyler County Rams in week two.
“We are feeling outstanding,” said Head Coach Paul Thomas. “The team is doing well coming in off of two good wins.”
The home Brookfield Bulldogs are also 2-0, coming in off of a close game in Ewing against Highland. While some have pointed out some early offensive struggles, Head Coach Nile Thudium would take umbrage with those thoughts.
“We really haven't struggled as much as it may have seemed offensively,” said Coach Thudium. “Our offensive line has actually dominated the line of scrimmage in our first two games. Our running backs are struggling to hit the hole at times and we have put the ball on the ground entirely too much, but we're winning the war in the trenches so far.”
Offensively, Brookfield runs the Shotgun Zone Fly offense. This year, the Dogs have added back in the power run game that was missing in previous campaigns. “Our offensive line must own the line of scrimmage,” said Coach Thudium. “Our running backs must hit the holes hard and protect the football. We have been our own worst enemy so far this year.”
Coach Thudium knows that his team will face a staunch Marceline defense. “They will load the box and dare us to throw,” said Coach Thudium. “We will need to continue to improve upon our passing game.”
Coach Thomas echoed the plan of attack for the Black Rage defense. “We have to play sound fundamental defense,” said Coach Thomas. “We must read our keys and fly to the football.”
Marceline runs offensively out of the Veer. With everything from misdirection, to power running, to play-action, one never knows what to expect.
“We have to be patient and take what their defense gives us,” said Coach Thomas of his offense. ”We have to hold onto the football.”
Coach Thudium knows that this isn't an easy offese to handle. “Our Defensive Line must control the line of scrimmage,” said Coach Thudium. “Our Defensive Ends and Linebackers must be disciplined enough to not get out of position, take care of their assignments and trust their teammates to do their own assignments. They have three very strong runners in the backfield that we must contain.”
Page 2 of 2 - As always, the two teams are sure to be pumped up for the Bell Game. With the added thought of “national” exposure, one has to wonder if this would be a positive or a neagative for the two squads involved.
“Players on both sides of this rivalry are always amped up for Bell Game,” admitted Coach Thudium. “I suspect the national exposure will add to it some. It should be a great atmosphere, and we're looking forward to it.”
Coach Thomas noted that he felt no additional pressure for the team based on the “national” spotlight that many have talked about. “No, we are focused on the game,” said Coach Thomas.
Still, “national” exposure or not, the Bell Game has always been about the two teams, and which one can earn bragging rights for the year.
For Marceline, winning this game would mean meeting a team goal. “Winning this game would mean we are 1-0 this week,” said Coach Thomas. “That is what our goal is every week.”
For Brookfield, winning the game would mean a four-year streak, and a career sweep for their seniors.
“Our seniors have talked a lot about how great it would be to graduate having never lost the Bell Game,” said Coach Thudium. “As a coach, this game is important to me because we need to compete and win a game against a high quality opponent.”