Scrimmages don’t affect high school football teams’ records or playoff possibilities, but both sides were happy that North Murray’s game at Christian Heritage on Thursday at least felt like the real deal.
The winner wasn’t decided until the final minute when the host Lions’ defense scored a touchdown for a 35-25 win over the Mount-aineers.
Since junior varsity lineups played for an hour beforehand, both first-team offenses and defenses played the entire game of four 10-minute quarters. The regular season for the two teams does not begin until Aug. 30, when North Murray plays at Southeast Whitfield and Christian Heritage hosts Model, but a back-and-forth scrimmage that included four lead changes brought game-like experience for both sides.
“This was great for our kids,” North Murray coach David Gann said. “You want to put them in situations they’ll be in during the season.”
That’s what Lions coach Preston Poag told his team at halftime, when Christian Heritage led 14-12.
“I told our kids in the locker room at halftime, ‘This could easily be Darlington or Trion and we’re playing for a region title,’” he said.
With the Mountaineers trailing 28-25 with less than 40 seconds in the game and his team at the Christian Heritage 47-yard line, North Murray quarterback Hinton McConkey set up a delayed pass to running back Drake McCowan in the flats, but defensive end Jake Stokes jumped in the air at the line of scrimmage and intercepted it, going 50 yards for the score.
“It’s the first time a lot of our team has played under the lights (in varsity competition),” McConkey said. “We played well. I just have to work on my reads a little bit.”
McConkey at times looked like the reincarnation of Brady Swilling, who graduated after rushing and passing for 1,500 yards each last season. McConkey threw for a touchdown to wide receiver Payton Swilling and rushed for two more, gaining 243 all-purpose yards.
At other times, he looked like an inexperienced quarterback without a single varsity game at the position under his belt, which he is. North Murray’s second possession ended with an interception in the end zone by sophomore safety Tyson Cooper.
Still, McConkey and the Mountaineers didn’t give up, even when trailing 14-0 in the first half.
“I loved that we didn’t quit,” Gann said. “We came back, took the lead and gave it up and took it back again. It’s just a scrimmage and doesn’t mean anything, but when I took over two years ago those kids’ mentality was, when they’re down 14-0, it’s over. When these kids are down 14-0, they don’t quit.”
Christian Heritage’s offense looked impressive at times. The Lions had five plays go for more than 25 yards, and quarterback Trevor Brown finished 13-for-17 for 165 yards and one touchdown to wide receiver Nich Bartley.
“We’re going to have an explosive offense,” Poag said. “We should’ve scored more.”
At other times, the Lions looked sloppy. They fumbled four times, losing three. On one, Stokes fumbled at the North Murray 4.
“Last year at Model in the first game, we did the same thing,” Bartley said. “We had seven turnovers. ... We’ll work on it and get better. After the Model game last year, we worked on it and we didn’t fumble much at all after that.”