Here is a report from Friday’s Murphy-Swain County football game from correspondent Marlon Morgan:
BRYSON CITY – It doesn’t matter if the Murphy-Swain County game is played during the final week of the regular season as it had been for the previous 29 years, or the next to last game like it was Friday night.
When these two meet up, it’s going to be a physical, hard-fought game regardless. In a meeting that had serious Smoky Mountain Conference implications, Swain County remained perfect in conference play with a 20-13 win over rival Murphy. The Maroon Devils improved to 7-3 overall, 5-0 in league play and will travel to Robbinsville for a showdown next Friday night with the conference title on the line.
“Murphy-Swain games are supposed to be like this,” Swain County coach Neil Blankenship said. “I think this is game number 70 (in the series). The tradition was upheld. These games are always like this. I told (Murphy) coach (David) Gentry, I respect him so much and what he does. It’s just an honor for me to coach against him in games like this.
“I told our kids, ‘This is what you practice for. This is what you play for, to put yourselves in position to play in games like this.’ To get this win and put us next week playing for a conference championship, that was our goal No. 1, to play for a conference championship.”
The odds didn’t appear to be in Swain County’s favor as the Maroon Devils went into the game with sophomore quarterback Brodie Bowman making his first career start while senior Trent Wright was out with a shoulder injury. Swain County staked their young quarterback with an early lead when the defense recovered a Murphy fumble on the first play of the game at the Bulldogs’ 27-yard line.
Six plays later, running back Keshaun Beaner scored from 4 yards out to give his team a quick 6-0 lead. Murphy (7-3, 3-2) finally got going late in the quarter, using a 13-play, 60-yard drive to take a 7-6 lead on Kadrian McRae’s 6-yard touchdown run. McRae pushed that lead to 13-6 when he added a 20-yard touchdown run.
Three plays later, Bowman hit Jordan Cody for a 57-yard touchdown pass that tied the game at 13, a score that remained that way at halftime.
“I thought we outplayed them in the first half,” Bulldogs coach David Gentry said.
“We all knew they were going to throw it deep to that guy. We just didn’t play it. Other than that, I think we totally outplayed them. In the second half, they totally outplayed us. Not on defense so much. I think our defense kept us in the game. They kept getting us turnovers. We just couldn’t do anything with it.”
The Maroon Devils credit Bowman’s touchdown pass to helping turn the tide.
“That was the big play of the game,” Cody said. “I don’t know if the game would’ve gone the way it did if we wouldn’t have made that play.”
The only score of the second half came on the opening drive when Bowman connected with Cody for a 17-yard touchdown. From there, it was a game marred with numerous mistakes by both offenses as the Maroon Devils managed to hold on for the win.
Swain County’s defense held the Bulldogs’ 1,000-yard rusher McRae to 66 yards on 17 carries. While Murphy quarterback Joey Curry also had 66 yards rushing, he was just 8 of 15 passes for 57 yards.
Beaner led Swain County with 103 yards rushing and Bowman was 6 of 9 for 108 yard passing with two touchdowns. Cody caught 5 of those passes for 91 yards and both scores.
“I thought our kids did a good job taking care of (Bowman),” Blankenship said. “That’s a tough job, to do that, especially what we ask of our quarterback here, reading the option and trying to get us out of bad plays. It’s not just managing the offense, but he’s got to be a player, too. He did a great job of doing that. He made some great throws tonight. And he’ll learn from his mistakes.”
Now it’s on to the biggest game of the year. The Maroon Devils know they must clean up the mistakes from Friday night if they are to knock off the defending NCHSAA 1-A state champions.
“This is what you work for, one for all the marbles,” Blankenship said. “I’m excited for our kids to get to play in that one. It’s going to be a tough one on the road. It ought to be exciting.”
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