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It was standing-room-only in Akron Friday night as Tippecanoe Valley hosted Rochester in the annual Battle for the Bell. With excitement at an all-time high after last year’s game was cancelled due to COVID-19 issues on the Zebra side, the Viking faithful went home happy after a 26-17 win. Tippecanoe Valley is now 5-0.

With both teams coming into the game undefeated for the first time since 2007, extra bleachers were added to the field to appease those arriving who may have arrived a little tardy. Every seat in the house was taken 30 minutes before game time.

“When we came out to warm up, some of the kids were like, ‘oh my god it’s already full’ and I had to let them know it was going to be that way,” Tippecanoe Valley head coach Steve Moriarty said. “For both teams to experience something like that, for all of those people to come out and support these kids, it means more to them than you’ll ever know.”

Fans didn’t have to wait long to cheer on their team, as the Vikings used outstanding coverage on the opening kick to tackle the Rochester returner at his own four-yard-line. The Zebras would get a little breathing room with a first down, but nothing else. The imposing Valley D-line made its mark with three big stops on the next sequence.

After a punt gave the home team a solid starting position, the Vikings wasted no time putting points on the board. A flea-flicker play on Valley’s second play from scrimmage saw junior Wade Jones passing downfield to a wide open Nate Parker. Parker would haul it in and make his scamper into the end zone to get the party started. The 2-point conversion was no good, and the Vikings were up 6-0.

On the next possession for the Zebras, Valley would come up with yet another stop, forcing Rochester to punt after a three-and-out. But on the following drive, tight end Landon Durkes would fumble after making a reception. Rochester would scoop it up and take it down the sidelines to the Valley 20-yard-line. The Zebras would be forced to settle for a field goal to cut Tippy Valley’s lead in half after another three-and-out. Durkes would redeem himself with two huge tackles on the possession.

On the ensuing drive, the Vikings would be called for holding on the second straight possession. It would kill the drive and force the only three-and-out of the first half for the home side.

Early in the second quarter, the game entered a brief delay after a member of the Tippecanoe Valley student section blew a whistle during a play. Officials met with coaches on both sidelines and attempted to figure it out. In the meantime, fans were treated to the Jeopardy! theme song while cheering on a Valley student who ran around the entire track surrounding the field holding an anti-Zebra flag. It was taken away from him at the end of the sprint, and the decision was booed by just about everyone in attendance.

After the delay, which resulted in the loss of a couple of yards for the Vikings, Valley was given a gift. A poor pass by quarterback Cody Eastgate fell right into the hands of a Rochester cornerback, but was dropped. A few plays later, the Zebras were made to regret the mistake when Eastgate dropped a 23-yard pass into the arms of Durkes, who would take it in for six. Durkes led all Viking receivers with 46 yards.

On the next drive for the visitors, Rochester earned its first first-down since its opening drive, but some poor QB play would eventually lead to a punt. On the return, the Vikings were flagged for targeting and forced to start the drive on their own goal line. For the second time in the half, Valley would fumble and the Zebras would recover. Not long after, a ten-yard run by Rochester would put the visitors in the end zone for the first time, and provide the halftime score of 13-10.

With the ball and the lead to begin the second half, the Vikings would play their brand of football on their opening drive. Bullying the Zebras with runs inside and out, Valley would methodically take the ball down the field and into the red zone. Six minutes into the drive, junior Dalton Alber would run into the end zone from seven yards out to extend the Viking lead to double digits.

“Our offense did a great job tonight of staying focused and doing what we needed to do, especially during times where momentum might have flipped,” Moriarty said.

On the next Zebra possession, things got a tad out of hand. Alber was hit with a horrendous roughing-the-passer call on a sack, and the wheels fell off. The Vikings would commit three more personal fouls on the drive, giving the Zebras over 50 yards of free offense. Rochester would take advantage of the sloppy play and use the shortened field to get into the end zone and bring the game back into one-possession territory. Valley would give up 112 yards on 10 penalties.

“We only gave up 50 yards at halftime, but gave up even more than that on penalties,” Moriarty said. “We’ve got a lot to clean up this week.”

Tippy Valley would not take kindly to Rochester’s fortunes. Parker would take the ensuing kickoff sixty yards and into the red zone. It was a monster game for Parker, who finished with 172 rushing yards and 311 total. The 172 rushing yards are the second most ever by a Tippecanoe Valley player against Rochester.

“What a special kid,” Moriarty said of Parker’s heroic efforts. “There’s a motor in him that won’t let him go down. He’s five-foot nothing and weighs 110 pounds and he’s one of the hardest guys to tackle in the conference.”

The home team would enter the fourth quarter in prime position to extend its lead, and extend its lead Tippecanoe Valley did. Jones would receive a pitch at the four-yard line and find the promised land. Gage Overbey’s kick would be blocked, and the lead would sit at nine with 10 minutes to play.

The Zebras would not go away quietly. On its next drive, Rochester would rip off two big runs to get the ball to the Viking side of the field after just a few plays. But while Valley’s defense would bend, it would not break. The Zebras would fumble a snap at the Valley 25-yard-line and the Vikings would pounce.

The home team would burn some clock before punting back to the visitors. With a nine-point lead and four minutes to protect it, The Viking D would shut the door. With the Zebras moving the ball well, Parker would grab an interception to seal the victory and keep the bell in Akron.

Tippecanoe Valley travels to South Whitley next Friday to take on Whitko.