For the past century, the Bear River Bears and Box Elder Bees have clashed on the gridiron in the longest continuously running rivalry in the state of Utah.
The Bees still hold a considerable lead in the all-time series, but the Bears were determined not to let that advantage grow in the 100th installment of the Golden Spike Game.
Playing before a hyped-up home crowd in Garland, the Bears mounted a thrilling fourth-quarter comeback, scoring on two fourth-down plays to top their cross-valley rivals, 26-22, on Friday, Sept. 4.
With about 8:30 remaining in the game, Bear River trailed 22-12. On fourth down and 3, quarterback Josh Payne handed the ball to Kace Jones, who darted through the left side of the line, absorbed a hit from a defender and stayed on his feet for a 63-yard dash into the end zone. A two-point conversion brought the Bears to with two points, and after getting a defensive stop, the offense worked its way down the field again.
Facing yet another fourth down with a little more than three minutes to go, Payne hung in the pocket and delivered a 36-yard strike down the middle to Cael Wilcox for the go-ahead score, and what would prove to be the final margin.
Box Elder had one more chance on offense, but penalties for holding and unsportsmanlike conduct pushed them back and the Bears defense held, putting the historic matchup in the books and giving Bear River its 27th win in the series.
“Historically, just based off of school size or whatever reason, we only win one out of four (in the series),” Bear River Head Coach Chris Wise said. “To have one of those be in the 100th game in the year of COVID, that’s huge.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Box Elder got on the board first when Bees quarterback Parker Buchanan found Braylon Majors for a 17-yard touchdown. The Bears responded, with Payne finding Wilcox for a 14-yard score. A failed extra point left the Bees with a one-point lead heading into halftime.
Box Elder extended its lead to 14-6 early in the third quarter on a 3-yard touchdown scamper by Buchanan, but it didn’t take the Bears long to respond. On the first play of the next drive, Jones took the handoff from Payne and sped around the left side behind solid blocking, made a couple of nifty cuts and raced 72 yards into the end zone to make it 14-12.
Another short touchdown run by Buchanan followed by a successful two-point conversion put the Bees up 22-12, setting the stage for the Bears’ rally to pull out the victory.
Jones’ two long touchdown runs propelled him to a stellar 170-yard rushing performance, and Payne was solid with 104 yards and two touchdowns through the air, both to Wilcox, who finished with 86 yards receiving on the night.
Both teams played a clean game overall, with no turnovers on either side and only 75 penalty yards combined. On the defensive side, Kaeson Burn led the Bears with 10 tackles.
“The boys just never quit,” Wise said. “One of the awesome things about the season and how it has happened, they know they’re really, really lucky to be playing and they just give it all they have. Nothing sets them back because they know they’ve got another play coming up, when a lot of kids around the country don’t get to play at all.”
Bear River hasn’t had much time to bask in the glow of the victory, as coming up next is the start of Region 11 play, beginning with the homecoming game this Friday against a dangerous Ridgeline team.
Wise said his teams have had some slow starts in past homecoming games, but said they have a solid plan in place that just needs to be executed with efficiency.
“We just take everything we’re already doing and do it crisper,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we get going right off the bat. Ridgeline is a great team and super fast.”
The Bears improved to 3-1 on the season heading into homecoming week.
While they are now focused on region play and the next opponent, Wise said last Friday’s game is one he and his players will never forget.
“If the season ended tomorrow, they still can’t take this one away,” he said.