Raleigh – David Gentry won his ninth state football crown with Murphy Saturday to help him celebrate his 75th birthday, as the sage fooled the opposition with a pass-happy playbook.
Mountain Heritage — the other WNC team in a state finals — is the 2A runner-up.
Murphy (10-1) defeated Northside-Pinetown (8-3) by 14-7 for the 1A crown, at N.C. State. At UNC-CH, Heritage (7-2) fell 35-6 in 2A as Reidsville (10-0) won its sixth straight state title. Heritage ousted Hendersonville a week earlier, but this time its grinding offense could not keep up with a far more athletic squad.
Both WNC teams in finals run the rushing-based, old-fashioned Wing T. Coach Joey Robinson’s tough Cougars foiled the shutout in the final half minute, on Logan Higgin’s rushing touchdown. Reidsville set the tone as quarterback Kyle Pinnix broke five tackles on a 61-yard TD keeper.
Gentrification of the Sport
Murphy has won it all in ten of 13 tries since 1974, including five of seven in the past decade – which Gentry noted is clearly his most prolific era. Murphy’s three latest state crowns were every other season. The win in 2018 was a 60-27 breeze. Gentry has coached 50 seasons, and led Murphy for 37 campaigns. He has won more (426) games ever among varsity football high school coach in N.C. Murphy went 15-1, 12-3, 13-1, 10-3, and 10-1 in these last five seasons.
Winning this state title two days after his birthday “feels great”, Coach Gentry told The Tribune. It rewards “overcoming adversity” such as injuries, COVID absences, and early graduations. “Our kids never quit.“ They thrived as underdogs winning the West Region 24-14 West at Robbinsville, the prior 1A state champ, to avenged their sole loss in ‘21. The script flipped, as Murphy scored twice early. Gentry cited “intensity” as the catalyst then, and in winning state.
Sec. of Offense Rumfelt
In the title game, the Bulldogs surprisingly went airborne to dominate the first half. “We’re run first, but we can pass,” Gentry noted. QB Kellen Rumfelt sparkled. Whereas Donald Rumsfeld was secretary of defense in 1975-77 and 2001-2006, consider Rumfelt as Murphy’s “Secretary of Offense.”
Rumfelt completed ten of 11 passes in the first half, for 207 of Murphy’s 241 total yards. He finished with 254 passing yards. He departed with a severe shoulder injury, late in the third quarter.
After Rumfelt departed, Northside again stuffed the box with nine of 11 defenders to play against the run. The Panthers did so for much of the first half, but it backfired in “giving us the pass” — with much success, Coach Gentry said. “Kellen was real accurate. Everybody played their best.”
Two long Rumfelt “bombs” were critical. His 40-yarder to a diving Payton McCracken ignited the first scoring drive, by setting up shop at the Panther eight.
Rushing 1-2 Punch
Ty Laney ran two yards for the opening score — untouched behind right guard Zeke Brinke, who blocked away two Panthers. Laney notched his team-most 11th rushing TD. The two-point conversion try was stopped. But Murphy led 6-0, with 3:16 left in the first quarter.
Lanky senior Ray Rathburn was Murphy’s leading ground yardage gainer, with 669. He and Josh Ledford each rushed for six TDs. Rathburn and Ty Laney each surpassed 125 rushing yards in the regional finals, combining for three TDs and nearly 60 rushes.
Taller Ledford and sturdy Ty Laney are sophomores, and QB Rumfelt is a junior. That bodes well for Murphy’s offense in this fall’s season, and hopes to reward Coach Gentry with an even ten state titles.
In the championship game, the teams exchanged fumbles — bridging the first and second quarters. Murphy cornerback Juan Allen — who made an interception in the opening series — stripped the ball away on a long run. Free safety Dalton Moore recovered it at the NPHS 39. But Northside pounced on a fumbled muffed snap, at its five.
A clipping penalty negated McCracken’s 38-yard TD reception, reducing it to a 12-yard gain. McCracken, back after a month-long injury, gained 113 yards on five receptions.
Biggest Play of the Day
Rumfelt hurled a 55-yard TD pass to senior Isra Smith up the middle. Rumfelt rolled left, then stepped up in the pocket to get the pass off just before getting hit. HSmith caught the tight spiral in full stride at the 15, then cruised into the end zone with 5:52 to go before halftime. The two-point conversion pass was good, as Rumfelt rolled left and hit Ty Laney. Murphy’s 14-0 lead that lasted to halftime.
Murphy largely rode its defense to this state title. Coach Gentry said his staff adjusted to stifle Northside’s counter and jet runs. The defense penetrated to make several tackles for losses, and force punts. Murphy’s high profile star Yousef Mugharbil made a crunching tackle before halftime. Mountain Mover Mugharbil, a four star-star rated recruit, is heading to the Florida Gators. The two-way senior tackle, is 6-foot-5 and weighs 330 pounds.
Northside scored as 1,500-yard rusher James Gorham ran 73 yards for his 24th TD, at the 9:19 mark of the third. The Panthers got the ball near midfield, after knocking it from Rumfelt as he cocked his arm to pass. Rumfelt grabbed his upper arm, wincing. He played in one more possession, was hit hard again while passing, then remained sidelined. Gentry said X-rays indicate Rumfelt separated his AC shoulder joint.
Cole Laney, Defense Clinch Win
Lefty Cole Laney, a lean sophomore, came in as QB in the final minute of the third. He had practice reps mainly as a WR. His first pass was deflected, but snatched by a sliding Rathburn. Northside later hit Laney as he threw, and picked him off at its 19. Murphy‘s defense contained NPHS for several possessions. Rathburn fumbled away the ball, at the Northside 33 with 3:43 remaining. But in a final gallant defensive stand, Murphy stopped Gorham five yards short on fourth down with 1:28 left.
Coach Gentry takes coaching a year at a time. He noted he does not have his usual two months off to “refresh” and then decide if he returns. He sounds as enthusiastic as ever. Many are eager for David Gentry to keep molding young men, and to soon win his tenth state title.