CHATSWORTH -- In the battle of Murray County Friday, it was the visiting Mountaineers of North Murray High School who claimed superiority over the Indians of Murray County, 42-16, behind an outstanding all-around effort by senior Ladd McConkey, who threw for two touchdowns, ran for one score on special teams, and nearly scored on a fourth-quarter interception return.
"Ladd is a threat everywhere he plays, and I feel confident with the ball in his hands," said North Murray coach Preston Poag. "He makes good decisions, he makes big plays, and he's a really good defensive back."
Last season, North Murray dominated the Indians, 55-3, but Friday's contest was more competitive, as Murray County closed within 12 in the second half before the Mountaineers scored the final 14 points of the game.
"They're a great football team, but we played with competitive spirit, and I'm proud of our team," said Murray County coach Chad Brewer. "We moved the ball, and it seemed like our offensive line played well.
"We need to eliminate big plays (against us). We can't give up a kick return touchdown, and we can't get beat deep."
Murray County struck first, with a 30-yard field goal by Elber Romero, but McConkey ran the ensuing kickoff back for a touchdown, providing the visitors a lead they would never relinquish.
"You can't wait back there (on kick returns)," McConkey said. "You have to find a hole and hit it, and then it's off to the races."
In the second quarter, Noah Lunsford broke multiple tackles in the middle of the field, and then was too fast for the Indians along the sideline, rushing for a 78-yard touchdown with 9:56 remaining in the half and boosting the lead to 14-3.
With time winding down in the opening half, Murray County faked a punt, but the completed pass landed a yard short of moving the chains, so North Murray took over with two minutes remaining on their own 33. Senior Landon Burrell beat double coverage, and McConkey dropped the ball perfectly into his arms, resulting in a 63-yard touchdown with only 64 seconds remaining in the half.
"With a receiver like Burrell, you don't have to be perfect, you just have to give him a chance," McConkey said. "He made a play for me."
The road team took a 21-3 lead into the locker room when Romero's 46-yard field goal attempt as time expired fell short.
On North Murray's first drive of the second half, they faced a third down on Murray County's 20. Needing 15 yards to move the chains, they instead got into the end zone, when Hayden Hulett found himself wide open, and McConkey hit him for the touchdown.
Murray County refused to capitulate, however, as Cade Petty threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Jason Rice with 7:19 left in the third to cut the lead, 28-10. On their next possession, Brewer reached into the bag of tricks for a flea-flicker. From North Murray's 45, quarterback Kaleb Jones tossed backward to Petty, who threw to Davis Redwine for a 45-yard touchdown. Though a two-point attempt failed, the Indians narrowed the deficit to 12 and had momentum in their rollicking home stadium.
The Mountaineers proceeded to drive down the field, however, and Lunsford carried for a 5-yard touchdown as time expired in the third quarter to extend the margin to 19.
"You've got to answer, that's what championship teams do," Poag said. "That was a really big part of the game."
With 6:15 left in the contest, McConkey stepped in front of a Jones pass for an interception and nearly scored before being tackled five yards short of the end zone.
"They hurt us on that route in the first half, but we adjusted at halftime, and we were ready for it," McConkey said with a smile. "I was mad, because I should've scored on that."
Lunsford plunged in on the drive's first play, providing the final margin.
Friday's game was a penalty-filled affair, especially on the North Murray side, and "I'm not pleased with that," Poag said. "We've got to get rid of those."
The Mountaineers (5-1, 4-0 in Region 6-3A) will look to win their sixth-consecutive game since a season-opening setback at Rabun County when they visit Coahulla Creek next Friday. Murray County (3-3, 1-3 in Region 6-3A) will visit Ringgold next Friday.