Bulldogs set to play for another state title
Durham – It will be Murphy’s sixth state championship appearance of the decade Saturday, as the Bulldogs will travel to Wallace Wade Stadium, on the campus of Duke University, for the 1A title game. Kickoff is at 3 p.m.
Opposing the Bulldogs (12-1) will be the Pamlico County Hurricanes (13-1), who bested Rosewood 16-12 in the 1A Eastern Regional Final on Friday night.
A run-heavy team, the Hurricanes have lived and died on their ground game this season. Sophomore running backs Savone Tutt (1,766 yards, 21 touchdowns) and William Lovick (1,148 yards, 14 touchdowns) lead the team in rushing. Senior quarterback Lamont Murray (767 yards, 19 touchdowns) is also not afraid to use the triple option to his advantage.
The Hurricanes have only attempted 18 passes all season.
“We looked at them all day Sunday,” said Murphy head coach David Gentry, who is seeking his eighth state title with the Bulldogs. “They’re a typical ‘Down-East’ team. We’ll see a lot of speed and they’re very athletic. They’re going to be good.”
Pamlico’s only loss of the season was a 61-0 blowout at the hands of Coastal Plains opponent Tarboro on Oct. 12.
The Bulldogs could be without two of their best two-way weapons Saturday, as Slade McTaggart (121 carries, 1,323 yards, 23 touchdowns; 55 tackles) was lost to an ejection during the second quarter of Friday night’s 1A Western final against Robbinsville. Murphy appealed the ejection, but the state decided Monday afternoon to uphold the call, meaning McTaggart will miss the final game of his senior year.
Chase Roberts (43 carries, 295 yards, one touchdown; 103 tackles) injured his shoulder against the Knights and will be a game-time decision Saturday. But Murphy will still have the balanced attack of K.J. Allen (1,111 yards, 15 touchdowns), Devonte Murray (738 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Micah Nelson (48 238 yards, six touchdowns) at its disposal.
Not to mention a stubborn Bulldogs defense that has allowed just 171 points in 13 games this season and is led by Ray Rathburn (145 tackles), Dallas Rayburn (112 tackles) and Hunter Shope (94 tackles).
“We know Pamlico is going to be fast and good,” Gentry said. “We’re going to have to be physical and do what we do to be successful.
“It means a whole lot to give my seniors a chance to win another state title. They won it as sophomores and they’re back this year. They’ve won three straight conference championships and they could mark on their two state championships. That’s real good. I can’t do any better than that.”
Allen, Nelson and Shope were all on the sidelines as sophomores during Murphy’s last state title appearance, a 15-14 win over Plymouth in 2016. Nelson infamously had to take some snaps while doctors attended to junior quarterback Joey Curry, who had sliced his finger open during a collision with a Plymouth helmet.
“Coach Gentry always told me, ‘You never know when you’re going to have to go in,’” Nelson said. “I didn’t know the signals; Coach Gentry would just tell me what to do. But Joey really taught me how to be a good leader and a good quarterback in the two years I played under him.
“We didn’t get what we wanted out of the season last year, but this is awesome. We were led by a great group of seniors two years ago, like Adam Powell, Colton Posey and Luke Newton, so knowing that I’m part of a group that the younger players look up to now is awesome.”
“It’s a great feeling,” Allen added.
“You couldn’t ask for anything better; I’m about to tear up,” Shope said.