The “Battle of the Bell” is a big game in the Mead School District every year since its inception in 1998. Rarely have the stakes been this high.
For the first time, the schedule-makers put the annual rivalry game in Week 9 for the regular-season finale. As soon as the date was released, players, coaches, fans and media across the state pointed to the game as a potential title-deciding contest.
Everyone loves when a plan comes together.
When Mt. Spokane topped Gonzaga Prep last week, it set up the rivalry game against Mead as the de facto Greater Spokane League 4A/3A championship game, with the winner earning the GSL’s top seed to the 3A Week 10 “Round of 32” playoffs.
With that as prelude, all that was left on Friday was for the two high-octane teams to settle it on the field.
Bode Gardner caught first-half touchdown passes of 61 and 37 yards, the defense made the scores stand up and Mt. Spokane topped Mead 20-10 to claim the GSL 4A/3A title outright – as well as the top 3A seed to Week 10.
It’s the first time Mt. Spokane (8-1, 8-0) has finished undefeated in league.
“We’ve never done it in the school history,” Mt. Spokane coach Terry Cloer said. “I mean, we didn’t return any starters (from last season) basically on this field today. Yeah, it’s special.
“This group came together and competed all year. A great job of our coaching staff to put kids in a position to make plays all night and I’m just proud.”
Mead quarterback Colby Danielson went 15 of 23 for 158 yards with two interceptions.
“It was a great game,” Danielson said, “We knew that, you know, they’re a tough team. They’re well-coached.
“Coming into this game we had to be on our ‘A’ game and, you know, we made a few mistakes. I made a few mistakes.”
Mead (7-2, 6-2) still qualifies for the postseason but will most likely be on the road.
“I’m just proud of our team, all the coaches, all the work that was put in to turn that into a positive season,” Danielson said.
The game ended up a bit of a defensive stalemate after some early fireworks.
“I thought there were gonna be some points put on the board and whose defense can make some stops,” Cloer said. “We gave up one on the first drive and then that was it. We bend, but don’t break.”
Jackson Hale had a fourth-quarter touchdown run and a key interception for Mt. Spokane.
“It really shows just how hard our team works and just how great they are,” Hale said. “They showed out tonight.”
Gardner had just the two catches, but he made them count.
“It feels amazing. It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It was a great atmosphere from both teams. Nothing I’ve ever felt before. It was amazing.”
Nothing is set in stone until the seeding committee releases the brackets Sunday, but the Wildcats have to like their chances to host a playoff game next week.
“At some point, maybe, you know, the program will get a little bit of respect,” Cloer said. “But we use it as motivation. You know, it’s easy to motivate when you’re not getting that kind of respect.”
“I don’t want to travel to the West Side just yet,” Gardner said.
The Wildcats went three-and-out on their first possession, and Mead started at its 46 after a punt. The Panthers’ drive stalled, but a roughing the punter call gave them a first down in Mt. Spokane territory.
On fourth-and-10 at the 32, Danielson hit Max Workman on an out route for 21 yards to the 11. On the next play, Colby Price (14 carries, 88 yards) carried off-tackle and went untouched into the end zone for an early 7-0 lead.
It didn’t last long. T.J. Haberman found Gardner on a short sideline route, and the receiver slipped a tackle, then danced down the sideline avoiding would-be tacklers for a 61-yard touchdown catch-and-run to tie it.
“I knew I was faster,” Gardner said, “and I just ended up beating him. Amazing ball by T.J. Great blocking by our O-line all night.”
Mt. Spokane took over on downs at its 38.
The Wildcats moved into Mead territory then Haberman hit Gardner on a post for a 37-yard touchdown pass and 14-7 lead.
After a punt, the Panthers started a drive at midfield. Danielson hooked up with Keenan Kuntz on a 27-yard completion to the Mt. Spokane 5.
Schuyler Harkness carried into the end zone from the 2, but a procedure penalty back the Panthers up.
They settled for a 20-yard field goal by Quinton Pacheco to make it 14-10 with 3½ minutes left in the second quarter.
The Panthers had one more drive before the half, but time ran out after a completion to the 5.
Mead took the second half kick and went on a 7-minute drive to the Mt. Spokane 13, but Hale came up with an interception for the Wildcats to end the threat.
“He’s a kid that didn’t start for us as a junior, didn’t play for us as a junior and waited his time and worked his tail off,” Cloer said of Hale. “Just a great young man.”
Late in the third, Mt. Spokane took advantage of a short punt to start the Mead 43. On the second play of the fourth quarter, Bradley Runge took a reverse 12 yards to the 4, and Hale plunged into the end zone from there. The extra point hit the upright, and the Wildcats led 20-10.
With just less than 5 minutes left, Mead’s Johnny Talarico returned a punt 42 yards to the Wildcats 43. But on fourth-and-17 at the 35, Danielson’s pass was tipped and pulled in by Mt. Spokane’s Runge at the 9 to seal it.