By Jimmy Espy, General Manager
Murray County made a better game of it than a lot of people expected on Friday, but the North Murray Mountaineers still pounded out a 42-16 win on their opponent’s home field.
North Murray quarterback Ladd McConkey was dynamic. The senior threw two touchdown passes, returned a kick 98 yards for a TD and was stopped five yards short of a touchdown on an interception return.
McConkey also ran for 59 yards, delivered several big hits in the secondary and sold hot dogs at halftime.
(Just joking about the hot dogs.)
“We have so much confidence in Ladd,” said Coach Preston Poag. “He’s a great athlete, makes good decisions and he makes big plays.”
Big plays were the key to the win for the Mountaineers (5-1, 4-0 in Region 6AAA) as Murray County battled them for four intense, hard-hitting quarters.
“It was a rivalry game,” Poag said. “Both teams were hitting. Both teams were playing hard.”
Murray Coach Chad Brewer agreed.
“I think the crowd had a lot to do with it,” Brewer said. “It seemed like everybody in Murray County was there and that got the players excited.”
“We feel like we went toe-to-toe with them, certainly that we played with a lot more effort than we did against Sonoraville (the previous week.)”
The Indians gave the Mountaineers a different look on offense. They used two quarterbacks, normal starter Kaleb Jones and Cade Petty.
“The plan all along has been to use both of them at quarterback but we just now got around to using Cade back there,” Brewer said. “This is our first year running the triple option. The players and the coaches are still learning it. I think both quarterbacks played pretty well on Friday.”
The Indians surprised their visitors with a 25-yard field goal by Elber Romero to take the lead at 3-0 late in the first quarter. The kick capped a nine-play drive aided by two defensive penalties.
Penalties were a problem all night for the Mountaineers.
“We had way too many penalties,” Poag said. “We kept shooting ourselves in the foot. We can’t do this against the teams we have left to play and expect to win.”
Gauge Stanley had a couple of tough runs for 12 yards on the drive before Romero nailed the kick.
Murray County’s boisterous fans had barely settled into their seats however when North Murray struck back.
McConkey took the ensuing kickoff at the 2, picked up his blocking near the 35, found a seam in the kick coverage and exploded to his left for the touchdown.
The PAT kick was good for a 7-3 advantage.
North Murray expanded its lead to 14-3 on its next possession and did it in electrifying fashion.
On second and eight at the NM 22, Noah Lunsford took a handoff, burst through several would-be tackles and stormed 78-yards for the score.
North Murray added a third long-distance scoring play just before the half, pushing its lead to 21-3. Senior wide receiver Landon Burrell got behind double coverage and McConkey found him with a 63-yard scoring strike.
The Mountaineers looked like they were putting the Indians away on their first drive of the third quarter. D’ante Tidwell broke off a 22-yard run and McConkey connected on three passes, including a 20-yarder to a leaping Hayden Hulett in the end zone.
Down 28-3 after giving up four unanswered touchdowns, the Indians could’ve called it a night. Instead they answered the Hulett touchdown with one of their own.
A personal foul on North Murray helped, but even bigger was a bulldozing 14-yard run by Carson Voiles which ignited his teammates and reenergized the big home crowd.
On the next play, Cade Petty zipped a 26-yard scoring strike to Jason Rice.
A possession later, Murray shocked the Mountaineers with a trick play. Quarterback Kaleb Jones fired a pass behind the line to Petty, who pulled up and threw deep to Davis Redwine for a 45-yard touchdown,
The Indians went for two, but the PAT pass was picked off by McConkey, keeping the NM lead at 28-16.
Murray followed with an onside kickoff, but North Murray got the ball at their 34.
A costly personal foul on Murray helped untrack the Mountaineer attack. Gunnar Thomason had a key first down catch and McConkey’s 20-yard run took the ball deep into Murray territory. That’s when Lunsford did what he does best — find the end zone. He scored from seven yards out.
North Murray added a sixth touchdown and once again McConkey played a central role. He picked off a pass and returned it to the Murray 5. Lunsford did the honors from there and Owen Hannah added his sixth PAT kick.
It was Hannah’s 25th PAT kick without a miss this season.
“North Murray is a very good football team, the best in our region I think,” said Brewer.
“I feel like we matched them in intensity but they just have so many weapons.”
“Ladd is the best athlete in our region,” Brewer added. ‘He’s a great young man and I hope he stays healthy and has a great year.”
Brewer praised his offensive line for having its best effort and also singled out sophomore safety Taylor Carrell who stepped into the starting lineup in place of injured Tyler Hayes.
There were big, enthusiastic crowds on both sides of the stadium, with many wearing pink attire in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month … McConkey finished with 136 yards passing and 59 rushing … Tidwell (73) and Lunsford (99) combined for 172 yards on the ground … Burrell had five catches for 107 yards … North Murray was penalized a dozen times … The Indians ran more plays than the Mountaineers … Murray County picked up 16 first downs, including three that were the result of personal fouls on NM … Petty rushed for 57 yards and was 3 for 3 passing for 82 yards and two touchdowns … Taylor Carrell led the team with 11 tackles … Gauge Stanley had seven … Jason Rice had three catches for 48 yards.
The Indians (3-3 and 1-3 in 6 AAA) travel to Ringgold on Friday to play the Tigers (0-6, 0-4).
North Murray, winners of five straight games, will host Coahulla Creek at home. The Colts are 1-5 overall, 1-3 in the region.
Both games start at 7:30 p.m.