There has been an empty spot in the Richmond High School commons the past couple of years. That area is normally reserved for the Saluda Bell that the Spartans and Lexington Minutemen annually battle for on the football field. As the 20th Bell Game kicks off Friday night at Gil Rector Stadium, the Spartans hope to be able to bring back something to fill that spot.
“No one likes to hand that bell over at the end of the game,” Richmond Coach Rob Bowers said. “When you walk through the commons and get used to seeing that bell in a certain spot the last couple of years and it isn’t there, that’s a constant reminder that your rival beat you.”
Both teams enter the 7 p.m. kickoff on different streaks. After on 0-4 start, the Spartans have posted back-to-back victories in which the offense has rushed for over 300 yards an outing. Meanwhile the Minutemen, 1-5 overall and 0-1 in the MRVC East (a 40-14 loss to Holden) have dropped four in a row after splitting their first two games of the season. Lexington has lost their last two games by one point each.
As the old saying goes – “this is a game where you can throw out the record books” – because last year is a perfect example. Lexington’s 36-13 win at Spartan Stadium was their only victory of the year. Richmond turned the ball over seven times in that game in what Spartan coach Rob Bowers called their worst game of the season.
Turnovers were a big factor in Richmond’s stumble out of the gate, but the last two games has found the offense keeping the ball more, while the defense has been creating them for the opposition.
“When we were turning the ball over the first few weeks we weren’t getting the ball back,” Bowers said. “The last couple of weeks, we’ve slowed down on us turning it over, and then all of a sudden we’re getting some. I think we proved the first four games how that works for you.”
Lexington dropped its second consecutive one-point decision last week when they fell to Trenton, 29-28. The Minutemen battled back from a 21-7 fourth-quarter deficit to take a 28-21 lead with 1:28 remaining in the game before finally falling.
Tom Beck, after serving as an assistant to Gil Rector for a number of years, returns the Lexington sideline as head coach. Beck has the Minutemen back to the days of the veer, power-I offense that helped lead them to five state titles under Rector.
“Tom is a big believer in power football,” Bowers said. “They line up and say this is what we’re going to do, so stop us. The kids are playing tough and I think they have bought into it. It worked for a lot of years, and if you do it well, it will work for a lot more years.”
Despite the loss last week, Lexington rolled up 344 yards rushing as seniors Darrell Brooks ran for 187, and Bryce Harrison added 130 more.
“Brooks is a hard runner and the other running back runs hard, too and does a great job,” Bowers said. “They’ve got some linemen out who didn’t play last year and they’re bigger than they were last year. Their offensive line is really coming off the ball. They’ve moved the ball all year long.”
Quarterback Josh Fiene added 38 yards passing.
Bowers adds the Minutemen have been moving the football all season long, but like his Spartans, have committed too many turnovers. The Lexington defense gave up 333 rushing yards and 96 passing yards to the Bulldogs last week.
Lexington has won the last two Bell Games, and has won 12 of the 19 previous meetings.