By Devin Golden
North Murray’s first running play only went for 2 yards.
All the ones that followed seemed to go for much more.
The Mountaineers piled up 441 yards on the ground en route to a 37-14 season-opening victory at home against Southeast Whitfield.
North Murray’s all-senior backfield — quarterback Brady Swilling, fullback Christian Bukle and running back Jacob Mays — caused the majority of the Raiders’ trouble. Swilling had 229 yards off 18 carries, Mays had 113 yards off eight carries and Bukle tallied 84 yards off 11 touches. The trio combined for four of the five North Murray touchdowns.
The Mountaineers ran the ball 47 times and only threw it twice in David Gann’s first game as coach.
“That’s coach Gann’s style,” Mays said. “If a play works one time, then he’s going to keep running it.”
The Raiders were still in striking distance heading into the second half, only trailing 16-7. However, North Murray got the ball to start the third quarter and went on a nine-play, 80-yard drive capped off by Mays’ 33-yard touchdown run with 6 minutes, 51 seconds remaining. With the score 23-7, Southeast never rebounded.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do offensively and defensively,” Southeast coach Sean Gray said. “We’ve got to do a whole lot better job of coaching. I’ll take a lot of the blame for that. I didn’t do a very good job on my part. We’ve got to be better prepared.”
The only other person to score for North Murray was John Chastain on a 2-yard burst with 3:15 left in the third to give the Mountaineers a 30-7 advantage. Bukle finished North Murray’s scoring off with his only trip to the end zone, a 37-yard run with 7:39 left in the game.
“Me being an offensive lineman when I played, that is what I want to do,” Gann said. “We kind of give it to our horses and run behind our offensive line.”
This is North Murray’s first win since 2010 and only the second win in the young program’s three-year varsity football history. It is also the first time the Mountaineers have had a winning record — North Murray won 35-21 against Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe in the fifth game of the 2010 season.
Gann said he “didn’t think about that” until asked how it felt. Mays, who started as a sophomore and experienced first hand a 1-19 two-year stretch, had the description down.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It feels really good.”
On the Southeast side, not much went right. The Raiders only gained 182 yards from scrimmage compared to North Murray’s 444. Blake Foster, who made his first start at quarterback, went 4 for 19 passing for 9 yards, although Gray said he saw some positives from the junior.
Already trailing 16-0 after an Izzy Hernandez field goal and a pair of touchdown runs from Swilling, Southeast got on the board in the second quarter off an 11-yard touchdown run from Foster with 8:06 remaining, a drive aided by a pass interference call on the Mountaineers. There were 15 penalties total — eight on North Murray and seven on Southeast.
Both coaches were not pleased with the number of flags thrown against their side.
“We were inches away a lot of times,” Gray said. “We had a lot of penalties. It seemed like every time we had a big play it got called back. ... Hats off to them. They did a good job. Their coaches did a good job. (Swilling) played great. He had a lot of big plays. We just didn’t get anything going.”
Gann had his list of problems ready to go.
“Kick coverage we’ve got to fix,” he said. “A lot of stupid penalties. We had some alignment problems. We had to waste several timeouts because we couldn’t get lined up properly.”
Southeast’s bright spot came from running back and kick returner Rhett Harper. The junior tallied 252 all-purpose yards, including kick returns of 45 and 90 yards, with the latter going for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to end the game’s scoring.
“He had several big plays. He had the kickoff return for a touchdown and the reverse for a long gain,” Gray said.
North Murray only gained 3 passing yards as Swilling finished the day 1 of 2 through the air — a completion that went to wide receiver Matthew Clayton.
Southeast Whitfield 0 7 0 7 — 14
North Murray 10 6 14 7 — 37
NM — Izzy Hernandez 23 kick, 6:28
NM — Brady Swilling 18 run (Hernandez kick), 2:27
NM — Swilling 74 run (Hernandez kick), 11:40
SE — Blake Foster 11 run (Abel Mendiola kick), 8:06
NM — Jacob Mays 33 run (Aaron Mendez kick), 6:51
NM — John Chastain 2 run (Mendez kick), 3:15
NM — Christian Bukle 37 run (Mendez kick), 7:39
SE — Rhett Harper 90 kick return (Mendiola kick), 7:25