CONCORD — On Friday, the A.L. Brown and Concord football teams will battle in the annual “Battle for the Bell” game. And on this year’s Concord team, there are guys that know all about that long history.
For starters, Samuel Cochran’s great-grandfather, Earl Cochran, played on Concord’s 1929 Class B state championship team, so the junior linebacker is a fourth-generation Spider.
“From birth, I’ve been going to these games and my great-grandfather was actually in the first Bell game (1931),” said Cochran.
With that alone, you can tell that the history and importance of this rivalry is not lost on the young men who’ll play in it Friday. From the seniors looking for a big win to end their high school careers, to players like Cochran with family connections, there is a clear sense of purpose among this group.
“The old cliché of throw the records out the window, that’s what you do in this game,” said second-year coach and Concord graduate, Marty Paxton. “Last year, we were in a similar situation (1-9), and we go in and score the most points we had scored all season (35). It’s just a different feeling and a different game.”
This year, the Spiders are preparing to face their fierce rival with a level of optimism most wouldn’t expect out of a team with a 1-9 record.
“The level of confidence is very high,” Paxton said. “It’s going to be a dogfight, like it is every Friday night. We’re going to give it all that we have, but our confidence level is pretty high.”
That confidence comes from what Paxton hopes is the return of high-level defense, which has been missing at crucial times this season because of numerous injuries and other factors.
“We’ve been good on defense,” Paxton said. “Yeah, we’ve given up some points, but a lot of that has been that (our players have) played a lot of snaps.”
The Concord defense has been on the field plenty. That, coupled with the injuries, have hurt the team sorely. The offense has been missing some pieces that help it move the ball, leading to the defense facing long times of possession.
Paxton said the Spiders have gotten some of their best players back over the last few weeks and, therefore, been able to play at a higher level.
With the return of defensive players like safeties Todd Smith and JoJo Bond, and defensive lineman/linebacker Travion Wilson, the Spider defense has been able to keep its wind by limiting player snaps.
“We also have depth,” said junior free safety Jacob Melton, who will be playing in his first Bell game. “Like (in the Central Cabarrus game, a 28-7 loss), I got hurt for a little bit, came out and somebody went in for me. And he did good, did great. Maybe even better than me. So it just feels good knowing that you have somebody that can back you up.”
That depth means everything to this defense, and it has shown its impact over the last few weeks. As players have returned and snap counts have lowered, players’ ability to be at their best has increased.
This can only mean good things as the Spiders look forward to a matchup against a team that is as willing to run the ball as much as any in the county.
“That’s a big thing for us, defense has got to get some rest,” said Paxton. “If they don’t, it’ll be a tough game, because those guys (the Wonders) like to pound it at you.”
The Concord defense has made strides, but the Spiders don’t walk into the matchup against A.L. Brown taking anything for granted. They know this one will be the true measuring stick to see how far they’ve come and more.
The Wonders have won four Bell games in a row, meaning that the current Concord senior class has never seen a bell game victory.
Hence, retuning the Bell back to the school for the first time since 2014 would mean everything to the Spiders.
“To get the Bell back here would be pretty special,” Paxton said.
There have only been four streaks of five or more wins in this series’ history, two by each team. The most recent was by the Wonders from 1997 to 2003, after the Spiders had to forfeit their 2001 win.
Cameron Sledge plays all over for the Spiders defensively, and he wants this one badly. As a senior, he says his high school football career coming to a close has been on his mind a lot but winning back the Bell would make it a lot more manageable.
“It means a lot,” Sledge said. “It’s just crazy because it’s going by fast. I’m not mad about how the season went; I’m proud of me, the football team (and the) coaching staff.”
With his head down as to hide the fact that this game in particular means so much to him, Sledge had a clear idea of what his mood will be after Friday’s battle.
“I’ll probably be emotional,” he said.
The emotion that comes with a game this big is clearly understood by the Spiders, especially for the defense, which has allowed more than 36 points per game, going up against an A.L. Brown squad that averages about 27 each night.
There seems to be a common thought on how this game’s result could impact a team that has seen adversity in all its forms this year yet still maintained a positive outlook.
“It would improve the season dramatically,” said Cochran.