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August 30, 2013

It’s about to get real

New season starts for six area teams tonight

Last year, North Murray High School’s football team started the best season in the program’s short history with a 37-14 victory against Southeast Whitfield, and it was an experienced Mountaineers squad that topped the Raiders.

When they face off in another season opener tonight at Raider Stadium, the scales of experience will be tipped toward the other sideline.

North Murray finished 5-5 and missed the state playoffs after going 4-1 to open its 2012 schedule. Tonight marks the start of the Mountaineers’ fourth year of varsity football and another shot a winning season, which is something the Mountaineers — who went 1-19 from 2010 to 2011 — have never had.

The Raiders have plenty of motivation, too. They’re on a quest for their first winning season since 1986.

“If we beat North Murray, it would definitely change the whole philosophy about everything here and the whole mindset,” said Southeast senior Abram Stanley, a wide receiver and inside linebacker.

In other high school football games involving area teams, Model is at Christian Heritage, Murray County is at Coahulla Creek and Pepperell is at Northwest Whitfield. All kickoffs are at 7:30 p.m.

North Murray had 23 seniors on its roster last year, and a number that stands at 10 this season. The Raiders’ senior class of 17 includes four-year starters Blake Foster and Rhett Harper. Foster is a running back, slot receiver and cornerback. Harper is a slot receiver, cornerback and one of two quarterbacks expected to receive playing time this season, along with sophomore Will Swantic.

Harper returned a kickoff for a touchdown against North Murray last season, while Foster had an 11-yard touchdown run while playing quarterback.

“Those two are as good as anywhere around and it seems like they’ve been playing there for about 10 years now,” North Murray coach David Gann said. “Those kids can hurt you every time they touch the ball.”

One problem the Raiders faced last year was defending the Mountaineers’ triple-option offense. North Murray’s all-senior backfield of quarterback Brady Swilling, running back Jacob Mays and fullback Christian Bukle combined for more than 400 yards on the ground that night.

Both teams were debuting new head coaches in last year’s opener. Southeast coach Sean Gray led the Raiders to a 2-8 mark but felt his team was playing much better by the end of 2012.

“We feel a lot better prepared this year than we were last year,” Gray said. “Also, I don’t think we had any idea how good Swilling and Mays were. ... Right at the end of their scrimmage game last year against Model, Swilling had an 80-yard touchdown run. I looked to my coaches and said, ‘That scares me right there.’ Because he looked like he was flying. Well, he was flying.”

Southeast must deal with another dual threat at quarterback, junior Hinton McConkey. Gray also mentioned senior fullback John Chastain, junior wide receiver Peyton Swilling and sophomore running back Drake McCowan as players the Raiders must beware of tonight.

Gann and the Mountaineers defense will need to plan for two looks from the Raiders. In the spread, Swantic will play quarterback and Harper will line up at receiver; in the I formation, Harper will play quarterback and Foster will be at running back.

“It makes it tough,” Gann said, “trying to prepare for two different styles of offense, not knowing what they’ll do and when they will do it.”

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