AKRON – “Win the Bell! Go win the Bell!”
So many scenarios and situations have been thrown at the Tippecanoe Valley football program in the past 24 months. For a night, there were no distractions. All the focus was put upon an iron bell painted black and gold.
Valley co-head coach Jeff Shriver’s commands on the sidelines, ‘win the Bell’, was received loud and clear from his program as the Vikings put together its finest football game to date, a 21-7 win against its arch rivals from Rochester Friday night.
For two teams that hadn’t had much of a presence in the first six weeks of the football season, Rochester and Tippecanoe Valley played a game that had the feel of an elimination playoff game. Possibly, this was their playoff game. Two teams that don’t like each other, records that don’t matter, and a scoreboard that decided who would carry community bragging rights into the night.
Valley made the big plays when it counted, putting together some outstanding defense with a handful of timely offensive calls to win back the coveted Bell. Perhaps the biggest moment in the game happened in Valley’s red zone.
Rochester, which used a 28-yard pass to Corbyn Wood to get inside the Valley 20, marched to the nine but faced a fourth and one. Valley, holding a 14-7 lead at the time, stuffed Rochester’s sweep to the far side, stopping the Zebras on downs.
Valley then paraded down the field and capped a 91-yard drive with a 44-yard pitch and catch from Alec Craig to Jarod Duzenbery. The play call, which fooled nearly everyone on Rochester’s defense as they sold out to cover the run with the clock melting away, had Duzenbery break behind the defense and dive to the pylon to ice the game.
Craig gave Valley the lead on the possession before after dancing in from three yards out. The shifty quarterback had scored on a 20-yard run earlier in the possession, but had the play called back on a penalty.
“The battle and fight we had in the second half was huge for us,” Shriver said. “There were some thing that happened we could have hung our head on. But we didn’t. We continued to fight and we answered back and answered more. It was key for us.”
Up until those sequences, one possession separated the two teams for most of the contest. Valley scored the game’s only touchdown in the first half, a three-yard pass from Craig to Bryce Webster on third and goal early in the second quarter.
Rochester answered on its first possession of the second half. The Zebras recovered a fumble and on its first play, quarterback Brady Perez slipped outside Valley’s contain and motored 40 yards for the score.
Tippecanoe Valley managed to keep Rochester’s running game in check despite the talent of halfback Wood, who did catch five balls for 95 yards. Rochester, which was held to minus-26 yards on the ground in the first half, had just 67 in the game – 40 of which was on the touchdown run.
The Vikings had a breakout game from its dual-threat Desean Heckman. The senior had 137 yards rushing on the night, including a huge first down run on a third-and-22 that helped keep Valley in command in the second half. The Vikings in total rushed for 250 yards on 52 carries, and had Craig complete four-of-six passes for 77 yards.
“He started that last week, almost to a 100 yards (against Manchester),” Shriver stated of Heckman. “He found a niche, a great athlete, and we found a combination of things that work. He’s a product of that. Great game.”
The game’s tone, to which the clapper was missing from the Bell, was also a remembrance of the greater importance the game brought. Marking the year anniversary of the tragic plane crash that took the lives of Charlie Smith, Scott Smith, Scott Bibler and Tony Elliott, the 2015 Bell Game ended on an incredibly somber note. Friday night, as Valley celebrated its accomplishment on the field, it knelt as one at the center of the field in a moment of silence for the four gentlemen, three of which had a say in the history of the rivalry game.
“The Bell is home,” Shriver said. “This is a situation where we talked about the history of it today and spent some time looking at some of the things over the years. Our young men have been incredible in this journey the last several weeks. I couldn’t be happier. This is an emotional night. I’ll tell ya, there were some tears out there on the T-V in the middle of the field for a lot of reasons. Many for the anniversary of that tragedy, but also, tears of joy for bringing that Bell home.”
Valley (2-5) will host Wabash (4-3), the Apaches pounded 41-7 Friday night to undefeated Three Rivers Conference leader North Miami. Rochester (0-7) will host Manchester (0-7) as something will have to give for one of the programs next Friday night. The Squires gave Whitko all it could handle in a 31-20 loss in North Manchester.