When my time is over on this earth, I will look for the â€œVictory Bellâ€ gods and shake their hands for all the scripts they have written for Brawley vs. Central â€œBell Gamesâ€.
Friday nightâ€™s 71st Annual Bell Game lived up to all the â€œhypeâ€ and then some. Central Spartans proved predictions mean nothing, and one must toss out everything that has happened previously in the season. Playerâ€™s valiant efforts from both sides of the field solidified the forever-strong rivalry. When the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Wildcats had won, 25-21, and increased their â€œBell Gameâ€ record to 47-23-1, since 1944 when the tradition began.
Central opened the game with the ball at its own 30-yard line after Brawley deferred the kickoff to the second half. On the drive, Central mustered enough for two first downs and worked their way to the Wildcat 34. On a third and six, a loss of six yards had them punting to the Wildcats. The punt went into the end zone and Brawley had the ball on their 20.
The Wildcat offense looked every bit the same since their 8-game winning streak began with the second game of the season. Runs by Andrew Ortiz and Ross Rubio had multiple 10+ yard carries in the drive. Working their way to the three-yard line of Central, Nico Aguirre was handed the rock where he scored the first points of the game. The PAT by Omar Celis was good, and it was 7-0, with 2:11 left in the first quarter. The drive was 12 plays, for 80 yards, in six minutes.
The last time the Wildcats trailed a game, since the winning streak began, was versus Gila Ridge, 7-0. In that game, the Wildcats struck back in 18 seconds and Brawley has never been behind in a contest since.
The Spartans one-upped the Wildcats; it took just 11 seconds to tie the game. Starting at their 20, then, hit with a false start penalty, the Spartans pulled off the biggest play from scrimmage against the Wildcats all year. QB Pete Sanchez, a sophomore, hit #14, Joseph Balbueno, with a perfect strike while he streaked down the Spartan sideline in full stride. The game was tied, with 2:00 left in the first quarter. The Wildcat fans went silent after watching the score tied so quickly.
The very next scrimmage play for Brawley was one of the most pivotal yet. It was merely a run from Ortiz for no gain. However, on the play, Ortiz was injured and it immediately changed the complexity of the game.
Brawley punted three plays later and the Spartans had the ball back at the Brawley 47-yard line. What caught the Wildcats by surprise was how pivotal Ortiz absence played on the defense. The Spartans were able to move the ball, even after being moved back to their own 41-yard line on a crucial penalty on first down. It didnâ€™t faze the Spartans one bit, five plays later they had a 3rd and 7 from the Wildcat 34. The very next play, Central QB Sanchez found himself with his second TD throw to Balbuena and a 14-7 lead with 8:10 left till halftime.
Both teams exchanged punts in the second quarter. Brawley had the ball with 3:23 left in the half on their 33-yard line. The offense finally began clicking without Ortiz. It was a drive that consisted of carries by Ross Rubio with three plays to Austyn Gutierrez. They reached the 30-yard line of Central, and on the final play of the half, Ross Rubio was sacked for a fifteen-yard loss.
Only once Brawley had gone into the half trailing, by the same margin of seven points, and that occurred in their only loss of the year against Hoover.
The great strategy of deferring the kickoff quickly vanished on the first play of the second half. A bad exchange from Ross to Gutierrez was swallowed up by the Spartan defense for great field position at the Wildcat 25-yard line. A play of one yard, and a five-yard penalty, brought up a 2nd and 14 for Central.
Pete Sanchez connected for his third TD of the game, this time to #2, Angel Ramirez, for a 29-yard strike. The PAT was good and with 10:41 left in the third quarter, the home crowd became quieter as it watched their team go down by the most points (14) in a game all season. 21-7, Central led.
â€œBeast Modeâ€ can be substituted with the nickname of â€œDefibrillatorâ€. Just when it seemed the Wildcats had lost a pulse in the game, Andrew Ortiz returned. With him jogging onto the field you could almost hear a huge sigh of relief from the home crowd. The â€œRockyâ€ song was echoing in the heads of many, as Brawleyâ€™s offense got a â€œBeep-Beep-Beepâ€ on the heart monitor.
The next drive began with a nice 27-yard return from Nico Aguirre to the Brawley 28-yard line, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty moved it to the 43-yard line. Using up over eight minutes on the drive, the Wildcats moved to the Central 6-yard line. This drive included one carry by Nico Aguirre, who appeared to reinjure his left arm, he did not return for the remainder of game. A big gamble of getting some points paid off when Omar Celis kicked a 23 yard field goal to cut the lead to 21-10, with 3:29 left in the third quarter.
Coach Self moved his chess pieces on defense, with Ortiz unable to play. Putting Steven Baeza as middle linebacker paid off big. The next Spartan drive was a three and out with the Wildcats taking over after a punt and return to the Central 49-yard line with one minute left in the third.
Brawleyâ€™s next possession took ten plays and almost four minutes. This drive paid better dividends with Andrew Ortiz behind a dominating offensive line that willed themselves to another score. The last four yards put the score at 21-16. The Wildcatâ€™s coaching staff chose to go for two, and Ortiz scored successfully for a 21-18 deficit. There was 9:12 left in the game.
The Spartans, finally, were being thwarted by the defense of the Wildcats. They had begun to find cohesion without their defensive captain directing traffic.
The Spartans gained six on a 3rd and 8 yards, which made for a manageable 4th and 2. But due to an after-the-play penalty, it turned into a 4th and 17 yards. This forced Central to punt with 7:43 left in the game.
With the ball on the Brawley 37-yard line, the Wildcats were 63 yards from the go ahead touchdown. Again, the offensive line pushed the Spartans back on their heels, not once gaining less than three yards on each of the next eleven plays. On the eleventh play, starting from the four-yard line, Ortiz took the handoff to the left side and was met by Spartan defenders. Ortiz, with every scrap of energy he had, bounced off a potential game-saving tackle and ran to the outside for the game-leading score. The PAT was good and the Wildcats regained the lead 25-21 with 2:28 left in the game.
Brawleyâ€™s defense had already given up a quick score earlier in the game. With fans heavily cheering and celebrating, the deafening crowd masked the nervous sounds from both sides. Centralâ€™s Angel Ramirez received the ensuing kickoff at his 7-yard line and during his return reached the 17, then dropped with what appeared to be an injury.
The Spartans were two yards closer than they were at their first TD of the game. The Wildcat defense kept Brawleyâ€™s win alive, but then a 4th and 2 pass of eleven yards resuscitated Central on their 36-yard line with under a minute left. Brawleyâ€™s defensive player, Alex Campbell, made a crucial QB sack that pushed the Spartanâ€™s back to their 28-yard line. The next play found Central QB Sanchez running from another possible sack. He heaved the football towards his receiver along the Spartanâ€™s sideline on the 40 in Wildcat territory, leaving a jump ball for a player who could catch the pass. Up jumped number #25, Nathan Suits, for his sixth interception of the year, thus insuring the heroics of the â€œBeast Mode.â€
The Wildcats now wait for the San Diego CIF seedings to pan out. Only El Capitan (10-0) is guaranteed the #1 spot. The Vaqueros will be heavily favored to win it all after a 14 point come from behind win over Super Power house Helix. San Marcos (9-1) lost to Powerhouse Mission Hills for its only loss of the season. Rancho Bernardo and West Hills both won and are (8-2) for the season, each taking their respective league Titles.
Brawley (9-1) wins the IVL outright and is guaranteed a home game either next Friday or in two weeks should they get a 2-3-4 seeding. Hopefully, the close game versus Central wonâ€™t knock them down to the 5th spot as the extra week to heal and prepare for the playoffs will be sorely needed.
â€œAt halftime, we didnâ€™t have to make anymore adjustments,â€ said Brawley Head Coach, Jon Self. â€œWe had to talk about how important this game was to us. We came out, got it done, and worked together. These kids stick together and they love each other.â€
Congratulations to the 2014 IVL Champions, the Brawley Wildcats, Coach Self and all his coaching staff.