Most of the first two quarters resembled a Floyd Mayweather fight. The teams traded punches, with none causing real damage.
That was until the final three minutes of the first half.
With Bell pushing the ball deep into Ballou territory, Knights safety Anthony Martin intercepted freshman quarterback Zyon Pierce and returned the ball 101 yards for the game’s first points.
Bell sophomore running back Tybias Barton ran to Pierce to console his teammate and send what proved to be a prescient message.
“I just went over and told him, ‘It ain’t over,’ ” Barton said. “ ‘Picks [are going to] get thrown. That’s part of the game. We just got to bounce back.’ ”
The mini speech worked. On Bell’s next possession, Pierce engineered a 68-yard drive punctuated by a 15-yard touchdown pass to junior Aaron Thomas as the half expired. The score was tied at 8.
“To see a freshman quarterback respond like that in that moment, knowing what this game meant to all of us, showed me so much,” Tyson said. “He’s got a real chance to be special.”
Bell came out for the second half looking for a knockout blow. After stuffing Ballou’s opening drive, Bell made it a point of emphasis to run the ball into the heart of Ballou’s defense. The game plan paid off, with Barton barging through multiple arm tackles on his way to a 13-yard touchdown run to give the Griffins a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
“Getting that [touchdown] but more importantly this win meant so much to me,” Barton said. “We all stepped up, we came to play as a family today, and we dominated.”
While Bell executed when it mattered, Ballou had chances to tie or take the lead, but penalties and turnovers undid the Knights.
For Bell, Friday’s win was a continuation of an upward trajectory. The Griffins went 11-0 last season, winning the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association Gravy Bowl and the Stripes division. They must win the Stripes again this year to move up to the Stars division, but they made a step in proving they belong with a win over a Stars stalwart.
“I have been here for all 13 years of this program’s existence,” said Tyson, who has been the head coach for the past five years. “After winning the Gravy Bowl last year, we wanted to show that this wasn’t a fluke, that we should be in this conversation.”