Over the course of two nights late last week, the chase for the 2013 Sunset League football championship became a free-for-all.
You can thank, or blame, depending on which sideline you root from, Los Alamitos High and Newport Harbor for creating an interesting race which will play out over the next eight days.
Edison and Fountain Valley, then co-league leaders of the six-team race, were defeated last week by Los Al and Newport Harbor, respectively. The end result last week left the Chargers, Barons, Griffins and Sailors, tied for the top spot, each at 2-1. A game back is Huntington Beach, a 1-2 team which over the next two games has the opportunity to possibly get a share of a title. A sixth team, Marina (0-3), has been eliminated from title contention.
"Here we go again," Edison Coach Dave White said. "The race is going down to the wire, and there are some big games left to play."
No game is any bigger than the one this week, for students, alumni and fans of Edison and Fountain Valley. Friday is the "Battle for the Bell," the big Bell Game that will once again be played at what already is a sold-out LeBard Stadium at Orange Coast College. It's the 44th meeting between these two rivals and not only is the Bell up for grabs, but so is the chance to stay in the hunt for a league championship.
Edison enters the game ranked fourth and Fountain Valley is No. 9 in the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division poll.
Kickoff is 7 p.m.
For Fountain Valley Coach Ray Fenton, Friday marks his initial first-hand experience of the Bell Game. The first-year Barons coach earlier this week got a taste of Spirit Week on campus and the excitement leading up to the showdown.
"It's just a great opportunity, for kids on both sides, to play in a game like this," Fenton said. "It will be standing-room-only, and sideline passes for the game are like a golden ticket. I just think the whole thing is exciting."
Defending league champion Edison (5-3) had a 12-game win streak in league play come to an end on Oct. 24 following a 16-10 home loss to Los Al. The Chargers out-gained the Griffins in yardage, 325-132, and in first downs, 16-4, but turnovers doomed their chances.
Senior Hunter Kelley kicked a 34-yard lead to give the Chargers a 3-0 lead, and a two-yard touchdown run by senior running back Tyler Warren, followed by Kelley's PAT, tied the score 10-10 late in the third quarter.
"Turnovers have been our nemesis in our three losses," White said. "Turnovers, poor punt team coverage, a blocked punt, and 89-yard punt return, were what hurt us.
"If we want to win Friday, we need to take care of the ball against a Fountain Valley team that I think is athletic, plays very, very hard, and is very well-coached. They are doing a great job.
"They were ahead at half at Newport, and a lot of teams, including us, had tough games at their place. We, and the same goes for Fountain Valley, just have to worry about ourselves Friday and execute our game plan."
Fountain Valley (6-2) took a 17-7 halftime lead at Newport Harbor Friday, but a second-half surge by the Sailors wiped out that lead, and resulted in a 42-25 loss for the Barons. Senior quarterback Scott Schultz (12 of 26) threw for 236 yards and three touchdowns, one each to junior receiver Ryan Finley (57 yards), senior Isaiah Davis (four yards), and senior Noah Rivard (57 yards), in the loss.
Senior Jonah Mack kicked a 38-yard field goal late in the first half for a 17-7 lead.
"They're a good football team," Fenton said of the Sailors. "I think all four of these teams tied for first right now, can win this thing.
"Playing for a league title, is an opportunity you look for. There is certainly no bigger game than this [Bell] game, but there is life after Friday. There's still one more league game left and, hopefully, the [CIF] playoffs."
Edison leads the all-time series, 28-14-1, and has won the last eight meetings dating to a 21-20 Fountain Valley victory in 2004.
"The fact that the winner of this game has the chance to be a league champion, makes this Bell Game even more intense," White said. "It should be a good one Friday."