After Kannapolis Brown rolled to easy victories over Concord in 2007 and 2008, it seemed the schools' football rivalry - the state's oldest and a perennial source of upsets - was in danger of becoming predictably one-sided.
The historic annual "Battle for the Bell" was mired in an unprecedented imbalance between the two Cabarrus County high schools.
Though Las Vegas didn't issue a betting line, many considered the Wonders heavy favorites over the rival Spiders entering last year's game, too. Conventional wisdom leaned on the wide gap between their win-loss records and the previous years' results.
But a hot Concord team and an uninspired Kannapolis performance led to a Spiders upset win, rejuvenating the rivalry that has produced the state's longest run of consecutive annual games.
The 2007-09 games didn't have the conference championship implications the game often has had over the years.
But entering games played this past Friday, only one game separated A.L. Brown and Concord at the top of the South Piedmont 3A Conference standings.
This year's contest will be played at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Concord High's Bailey Stadium.
The Bell Game is back!
Still tight after 79 games
The consecutive games streak started in 1931. Concord leads the series 39-36-4.
Most of those years, the two schools have been in the South Piedmont Conference. And many of those years, their annual game ended both schools' regular season.
Between 1989 and 1999, every season-ending Concord-Kannapolis game determined the conference championship. In 2000, West Rowan won the league title, breaking that streak.
The state high school athletic association reclassifies teams every four years, and before the 2001 season A.L. Brown was moved out of the SPC into the North Piedmont. That lasted until 2004. The Bell Game was played in September during that stretch, and it lost some of its meaning and intensity.
The teams were reunited in the SPC in 2005, but conference officials did not grant end-of-year status to the Bell Game for the first two seasons. The game was played in mid-October in 2006 and 2007.
In 2007, both teams entered the Bell Game with 6-1 league records. With a 9-1 overall mark, compared to Concord's 6-3 record, Kannapolis had some momentum. The Wonders had won their previous five games by a combined score of 261-46.
Kannapolis won the game 45-25, but the final score didn't reflect the Wonders' dominance. They had built leads of 21-0, 31-7 and 45-19.
Two very different weeks
In 2008, the Spiders were mired in their worst season since 1979. Brown's 56-6 victory was the most lopsided in the series' history, and Concord's season ended at 3-7. Kannapolis went on to play for the 3AA state championship.
When the teams met Nov. 6 last year - once again in the season's final tilt - the Wonders had already clinched their third straight SPC championship. After losing its first six games, Concord was on a four-game winning streak. The two teams had very different practices in the week leading up to the Bell Game.
"It was not good," said Brown coach Ron Massey. "It was one of our worst weeks of practice. Everybody had been telling them (how good they were). They read the newspapers and Internet."
"Our kids approached that game as if we could win," said Concord coach Glen Padgett. "But we knew we'd have to play very well to do it. They took a great approach that week. We knew we'd go in as a big underdog, and that can be an advantage. There's no pressure, no expectations."
All the scoring came in the first half. Concord's Jacquise Moore and Brown's Travis Riley scored first-quarter touchdowns. Dominique Posey scored for the Spiders in the second quarter, and the Wonders' Brenden Brown kicked a field goal.
Trailing 13-10 midway through the fourth quarter, Kannapolis drove from its 41-yard line to Concord's 17. Two running plays got nowhere, and a fumbled pitch on third down pushed Brown back 13 yards and out of field goal range.
Concord's Jalen Brown intercepted a fourth-down pass to help preserve the win ... and breathe new life into the 79-year-old series.