Maxx Bell and Grant Hartley lead the Edward Little football team down Campus Avenue in Lewiston on their way to the the Ballte of the Bridge football game against Lewiston on Friday night.

Alexander Beaulieu made a bold prediction on the score of the Battle of the Bridge football game. His numbers were a little off, but he nailed the outcome.

Edward Little students Ben Feldman and Isaac Dumont, on left play a game of water-pong in the field behind the Lewiston Middle School before the Battle of the Bridge football game.Lewiston high school students Nicholas Roy, left, Jenna Morin and Rachel Ouellette play a game of “Waa” in the fields behind the Lewiston Middle School durign a tailgate party for the Battle of the Bridge football game.Lewiston Cheerleaders, Maraeka Merchant and Maggie Belleau leave the tailgate party in the Lewiston Middle School parking lot and walk over to Friday night’s Battle of the Bridge football game at Garcelon Field at Bates College.

LEWISTON — It’s not just a fancy word: This really was epic.

Hours before the Battle of the Bridge game got underway, there was already a level of intensity in Lewiston few have felt in years.

“It’s a Super Bowl vibe out here,” said Jason LaFrance of Lewiston. “It really is. And it’s just awesome.”

He wasn’t kidding. A full hour before kickoff, there was already a buzz up and down Central Avenue as many hundreds gathered for pregame celebrations. For a chunk of time, the area around Lewiston Middle School felt like the streets outside Gillette Stadium or Soldier Field.

“This is just phenomenal,” said Linda Scott of Lewiston. “I’m mean, look at all this. It’s a gorgeous night. The kids are all excited. They’re all dressed up and ready to support their team. I’m so super excited about this. Everyone is.”

The vibe was pretty intense indeed. It’s a rivalry that dates back to 1897, after all. Then the Edward Little High School Red Eddies team arrived on their bus and with them, an explosion of fresh energy. Suddenly, it wasn’t just intense, it was electric. Dramatic. And loud; very, very loud.

The Red Eddies rolled into Lewiston with the screaming sirens of a firetruck, the deafening wail of a big-rig horn and the thunderous applause of euphoric fans. It was an immense cacophony of team spirit and when the bus rolled to a stop, the Red Eddies filed out and walked straight down Central Avenue toward the field like masters of the universe.

“It’s like they own Lewiston right now,” said Megan Parks of Lewiston. “How did that happen?”

“Edward Little definitely showed us up right there,” agreed Heidi Sawyer. “That was a pretty amazing entrance. I still think Lewiston is going to beat them on the field, though.”

She was right, as it turns out. In football, the drama of a team’s entrance has no effect whatsoever on the scoreboard. The Red Eddies may have won on presentation, but they lost where it really counted.

The waiting is the hardest part?

While everyone waited for the Battle of the Bridge to begin, there was plenty of pregame hype in which to indulge. There was food. There was banter. There was bravado.

And my, how the fans indulged in all of it.

“I was afraid I brought too much food,” said Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte, who had arranged a barbecue and tailgate party in the Middle School parking lot. “Then I saw the waves of people coming. It was just wave after wave, like a scene from ‘The Walking Dead.’ Now we’re out of meatball subs, we’re out of hot dogs and I’m down to the last of the sambusa.”

Where there is pregame hype, there is also bravado. LaBonte, naturally, was predicting a Red Eddies win. Predicting it with a bit of swagger, in fact. The Red Eddies were, after all, undefeated this season.

“And when they win it all, I can start talking crap to other mayors in Maine,” LaBonte said. “That’s the funnest part.”

The Red Eddies’ record was impressive, of course, but not everyone was convinced the game against Lewiston’s Blue Devils was a lock. LaFrance, for one, was a tailback for the Lewiston football team in the late 1990s. He’s seen some strange stuff at the Battle of the Bridge.

“Sure, EL is undefeated,” LaFrance said. “We’re not. But you know what? Anything can happen in this game. I remember when I played, there was one year when we didn’t win a game all season, but then we went on to beat them.”

Lewiston High student Alexander Beaulieu wasn’t just predicting a Blue Devils win, he was bold enough to predict the score, too.

“Lewiston wins 21-14,” he said. “I got a good feeling. Lewiston all the way.”

Lewiston sophomore Lauryn Griffey Parks, too, was feeling pretty confident.

“Even though EL is undefeated, I think we can beat them tonight, I really do,” she said. “They’re good, but we’re good, too.”

Jacob Kyajohnian, an Edward Little senior, found that idea rather amusing.

“Oh, EL is definitely going to win,” he said. “We’re undefeated and we’re going to stay that way. There’s no way Lewiston can match up with us. We have the top two receivers in the state. We’re definitely going to win this thing.”

“Boy, I don’t know,” said David Gudas of Lewiston, when asked for a prediction. “The Red Eddies are going to be really tough to beat, but I’d love to see Lewiston do it.”

In the waning minutes of the game, Lewiston was up 36-16. Red Eddies fans who were so calm and cool just an hour before were suddenly sweating. And pacing. And maybe crying a little in some parts of the bleachers.

It didn’t help. Lewiston prevailed by a score of 41-16.

It’s an old rivalry, no doubt, and in rivalries passions run high. But the mood around Bates College’s Garcelon Field before the game was light, with a notable lack of genuine animosity. On a field behind the Middle School, Lewiston High kids played ladder ball, corn hole and water pong with kids from the other side of the bridge. Even the most ardent sports fans agreed that there was more a sense of community than of competition.

“It’s the last day of Spirit Week,” Griffey Parks said. “Everybody’s happy.”

“I mean, look at them,” said Lewiston police Lt. Michael McGonagle, who was there ostensibly to provide security. “Everyone is out here having fun. It’s a beautiful night. It’s a great time for the kids and for the community.”

“Oh yeah,” said Sawyer, who supports Lewiston about as passionately as anyone. “All the kids are out here mingling together. They like each other right now. Any animosity will be saved for the football field.”

Even Mayor LaBonte, between flipping burgers and pouring drinks, was waxing poetic about the friendliness of the affair.

“It’s great to see the students take initiative to rally their peers around school and community pride for tonight’s game,” he said. “While we are two cities, shared community events like this are always fun to attend and catch up with friends.”

It was a touching sentiment. It didn’t last long.

“But with all that warm, fuzzy stuff aside,” LaBonte said, “this Battle of the Bridge is important for Coach Sterling’s Eddies to keep momentum into the Class A North playoffs.”

When the national anthem was sung to start the game, there were times when one couldn’t hear the singer because so many fans were singing along with her. There was no political posturing, no unexpected drama, just the tradition that has marked the start of big games for generations.

When the anthem was over, one man put his baseball cap back on his head, swiped a tear from his cheek and clapped loudly along with the rest of the crowd.

“Battle of the Bridge,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Then he went on clapping, even as the game got underway.

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