By Jimmy Espy, General Manager
FORT OGLETHORPE – North Murray made school history on Friday, claiming its first-ever region championship by crushing Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe 31-0.
But the Mountaineers, who finish their regular season at home on Friday against Sonoraville, are not satisfied. Nor are they ahead to the playoffs.
“One game at a time,” said wide receiver Landon Burrell, as his teammates celebrated on Friday. “That’s how we’re going at it.”
“This is something we’ve never done before and we’re proud to bring it (the region 6-AAA title) to our school.”
The Mountaineers (8-1, 7-0 in the region) shut out LFO, but the Warriors did not go down without a fight — literally. The game turned nasty for a brief time in the third quarter after a sideline hit on Mountaineer quarterback Ladd McConkey in front of the North Murray bench. Harsh words and shoves were exchanged between players and the makings of a brawl were in place as North Murray coaches tried to restore order. The arrival of LFO coaches made matters worse when they got into a shouting match with their North Murray counterparts.
Loud, unpleasant suggestions were exchanged before the referees and common sense restored order.
The brouhaha fired up players and fans on both sides but did little to help LFO dig out of the 17-0 hole the Warriors were burrowed into at the time.
McConkey, as he has done most of the season, sparked the Mountaineer offense.
The senior threw three touchdown passes and ran for another.
Putting him out of the game seemed to be a top priority of the Warriors, but they failed to do so and McConkey made them pay, though he had some troubles of his own. He threw a bad interception in the first quarter and lost the ball on a fumble in the second quarter.
Those miscues helped keep the score deadlocked at 0-0 until the 3:04 mark of the second quarter when McConkey dashed 40 yards for a touchdown.
Owen Hannah’s PAT made it 7-0.
The Mountaineers got sneaky and followed with an onside kick which Chaisen Buckner recovered at the LFO 38.
It was Buckner who did the scoring honors, hauling in a short pass from McConkey and accelerating past the safety for a 22-yard TD play.
Hannah added the PAT.
The Warriors should have been able to run out the half but instead gifted the Mountaineers three more points when Burrell recovered a fumble.
A penalty on LFO and a 15-yard run by McConkey set up Hannah for a 34-yard field goal. It was the young kicker’s sixth successful boot in as many tries this season.
The third quarter hubbub could have distracted the Mountaineers from the task at hand but didn’t.
The defense, in particular, stayed focused.
NM stretched the lead to 24-0 on a 11-play, 74-yard drive, highlighted by McConkey and D’Ante Tidwell’s collaboration.
An 18-yard McConkey to Tidwell pass was a key play. So was a 26-yard run by McConkey and a 15-yarder by Tidwell.
The duo teamed for the TD on a six-yard slant pass that McConkey stuck between the 2 and the 3 on Tidwell’s jersey.
North Murray closed out the scoring in the fourth quarter when McConkey hit Burrell with a 36-yard connection.
“Our kids played hard,” said Coach Preston Poag. “They worked hard for this championship and I couldn’t be more proud of this group of seniors.”
McConkey had 148 yards on 13 carries. He added 128 passing yards, connecting on 12 of 16 attempts. For the season, he has 14 passing touchdowns and seven rushing TDs.
D’Ante Tidwell added 61 yards on the ground. As a team, the Mountaineers piled up 263 rushing yards. Tidwell added four catchs for 25 yards.
Landon Burrell caught two passes for 48 yards.
“We started slow,” said Poag. “But we kept playing hard. We’ve got to cut out the turnovers.”
North Murray surrendered three fumbles and an interception.