Bulldogs win 1A state championship
Chapel Hill – Back-to-back defensive encroachments are often frowned upon, but especially so in a state championship game.
Unfortunately for the Plymouth Vikings, the lack of discipline on a potential game-tying Murphy Bulldogs’ extra point moved the ball up to the one-yard line.
The Murphy offense trotted back out on the field, and quarterback Joey Curry snuck the football across the plane to give the Bulldogs a 15-14 advantage, a score that eventually gave Murphy its seventh state 1A title Saturday in Kenan Memorial Stadium.
“I thought this was a gutty performance by our team,” Murphy head coach David Gentry said. “We did what we had to do. I don’t think the ballgame should’ve been close, if you look at the stats.
“We completely dominated this game. But to give Plymouth credit, they get after you. They threw some things at us that we weren’t ready for and we had to adjust at halftime. We started running the ball better, obviously. This was a tremendous effort.”
Plymouth received the opening kickoff, but a fired-up Bulldogs defense quickly dampened the Vikings’ hopes by forcing a Ta’Quaun White fumble on third down. White recovered, but Plymouth punted on its next play.
Murphy’s offense took the field for the first time and got off to a hot start, as a Curry pass to Colton Posey on second down was good for 17 yards. The pass opened up a deep cut on Curry’s right index finger, which later forced him to the sidelines for the next two Murphy drives. The Vikings’ defense quickly stepped up, sacking Curry on third down and forcing a Bulldogs punt.
Plymouth quickly punted again before the Bulldogs put together an eight-play possession that ended when a Micah Nelson pass to Colton Posey fell short on fourth down. The Vikings took over on their own 21-yard line, but punted to start the second quarter.
Nelson fumbled the first snap of the next drive, giving the Vikings just 20 yards to break the deadlock. After five plays, Plymouth did just that, scoring on a 5-yard dash from Elijah Carmack. Jose Castenada split the uprights on the extra point, giving the Vikings a 7-0 lead.
Curry returned for the next Murphy drive, but again the Bulldogs found themselves having to punt. Following a three-and-out that left Murphy at the Vikings 29-yard line, a 1-yard rush from Kadrian McRae and an 18-yard completion from Curry to Tanner Creelman paid dividends for the Bulldogs, as Slade McTaggart then burst through the Vikings’ defense for a 10-yard Murphy touchdown. The extra point from Joey Helton was successful, tying the game at 7-7.
The Vikings failed to respond on the ensuing drive, but reversed their fortunes when Diedre Whitehead ended Curry’s interception-free season. Starting at the 41-yard line and with momentum on its side, Plymouth quarterback Ayrn Gibson chunked a second-down, 56-yard pass to White for another Vikings touchdown. Following the PAT, Plymouth took a 14-7 lead into the locker room.
Murphy pulled back ahead to begin the third quarter, capping a five-play drive with a 47-yard touchdown run from McRae. The aforementioned Vikings encroachments paved the way for Curry to punch in the go-ahead conversion, putting the Bulldogs on top 15-14.
After a Plymouth punt, Viking Josh Downing recovered a McRae fumble at the 45-yard line. Plymouth again had to punt, before the Bulldogs turned the ball over on fourth down. The fourth quarter proved to be more of the same, with the Vikings punting and the Bulldogs refusing to punt and instead turning the ball over on downs.
With four minutes standing between the Bulldogs and a state title, Murphy took over at the 44-yard line. The Bulldogs stuck with what brought them to the dance, managing the clock on a ground-churning possession. Following a Murphy timeout with 1:50 left in the game, McTaggart converted a 4th-and-3 to all but put away the victory. Three kneels behind the line later and the Bulldogs faithful erupted as the clock struck zero.
The finger injury limited Curry’s passing attack, as he finished the game 5-of-9, with 50 yards.
“That was the only thing down for us and he’s gonna have to go to the hospital,” Gentry said.
McRae churned out 158 yards on 20 carries and mixed in a touchdown, while Posey had three receptions for 32 yards.
“Kadrian started off a little slow this year, but he kept getting better and better,” Gentry said. “The last three games, he’s been REAL good. He’s as good as he’s ever been. I’m proud of the way he’s come on.”
“It feels pretty great,” McRae said. “Honestly, it’s the best feeling, knowing you’re getting the job done. We’re all blessed and I love all these guys.”
Cory Farmer led the Bulldogs defense with 13 tackles and eight assists. Adam Powell had 12 tackles and nine assists, while Chase Roberts tallied eight tackles and four assists.
After the game, Powell was named the Defensive Player of the Game, Curry the Offensive Player of the Game and McRae received the Most Valuable Player Award.
All-Smoky Mountain Conference Team Announced
Curry, Posey, McRae, McTaggart and Powell, plus Joseph Deetz, Luke Newton, Travis Seabolt and Isaac Stafford were each named to the 2016 All-SMC team.
Creelman, Farmer, Helton and Roberts also joined Cody Cantrell and Jake Hincke as All-Conference Honorable Mentions.