Coach David Gentry praises MLB Cory Farmer (54) and other Bulldogs, after they won their opener 21-17 at Hendersonville. Farmer was the team’s top tackler, in the state title victory Saturday. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
By Pete Zamplas- Edneyville native David Gentry propelled his football legacy deeper Saturday, by winning his seventh state title with Murphy Bulldogs and his WNC-record 381st career head coaching victory.
Murphy (15-1) is the sole WNC football team to win a state title this season, seizing the 1A crown 15-14 over Plymouth Vikings (12-4) in freezing chill Dec. 17 at UNC-Chapel Hill.
The triumph felt “very rewarding,” Coach Gentry said the next day. “We have such a great group of kids.” He is better than ever, winning his third 1A state title in the six seasons of this decade.
Top Murphy receiver-DB Colton Posey (21) leaps to snare a pass meant for Tykel Landrum (7), to spur a comeback win. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Hendersonville Bearcats factored into this title, Murphy quarterback Joey Curry reasons, as they pushed Murphy into the opener. The Bulldogs rallied fiercely, with key passes and runs. They scored two touchdowns in the final quarter, to win 21-17 on that Saturday.
Curry said that spurred confidence the Bulldogs could do whatever is needed to prevail. They pulled out two close playoff contests, including the grand finale. HHS head coach Jim Sosebee prophetically proclaimed Murhpy is “going to win a state title” this year.
“When you hear the words ‘Coach Gentry,’ you think respect,” Curry said. “He’s the winningest coach in western North Carolina. He’s also a great guy to be around. He tells you straight up, if you screw up or how good you did. He tells you the truth.” He rallied his troops at halftime Saturday, to cease its turnovers and keep overpowering the enemy.
Star MHS back Kadrian McRae, a 1,200-yaard rusher, storms through HHS in the season opener. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Gentry, 70, has won a WNC-best 381 football games — 80 more than the next best. He has done so in 46 seasons, with 34 at perennial power Murphy, after three in Virginia then nine (1974-82) at his alma mater Edneyville where he twice won conference crowns. He averages 8.3 wins.
Gentry is 31 wins from the state mark of 412 — set by Jack Holley over 44 years — and could snare that in three seasons and approach a half-century of head coaching. He is also within reach of the state same-school win record of 330, which Tom Brown set in 35 years at Maiden. Robbinsville’s Bob Colvin won a record 11 state titles a generation ago.
This writer’s hunch is Gentry will return to coach for a last hurrah — title number eight, in 2017. David Gentry is Murphy football. His career has long been sterling.
Yet he has two good reasons to return, for at least one year. Firstly, MHS has a solid chance to repeat as state champs — since Curry and prolific runner Kadrian McRae are juniors. “I know Joey wants me back for one more year” was Gentry’s post-win press conference quip.
Secondly, a bonus swan song is as head coach of North Carolina stars in the Shrine Bowl for the first time, after once serving as an assistant. He told The Tribune on Sunday he will decide next month whether to return, after conferring with his wife and finding out if the Shrine Bowl will give him a rain check for a year from now. If so, he said, that can tip the scale toward returning. He would have led N.C. all-stars (who won) on Saturday, but instead directed Murphy. That scenario could repeat next year.
Murphy Bulldogs after quick HHS QB Bud Williford are soph Micah Nelson (2), Cody Cantrell (56), MLB Cory Farmer (54), big Wyatt Rayburn (73) and Tanner Creelman (25). Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Gentry reached the 1A title game four years in a row through 2013 — winning twice — and is 7-3 in 10 finals. He won state titles in 1986 and ’87 (with future all-pro WR Carl Pickens), 1991, 1996, 2011, ’13 and ’16.
MHS also edged Plymouth by a point for the 2013 title — by 35-34. That avenged a title loss a year before, when Michael Curry was the MHS quarterback as sophomore before moving away. This payback in the rubber match was familial, by his brother Joey. Joey is halfway toward his preseason goal of “two rings.” He foresees the skill core getting “bigger, faster and stronger.”
Curry played through three injuries sustained Saturday. On the third play, a helmet strap’s metal “slashed” his right/throwing hand’s index finger to “the bone,” Curry said on Sunday, just after the school trainer tended to him. He missed one series, had the finger taped, and played on with a glove. He said he had surgery-like attention at halftime, then stitches at a nearby hospital after the game.
In the game, he also twisted his ankle, and had a “stinger” on his throwing elbow. “My elbow is swollen and sore,” he said Sunday. “But it’s definitely worth it” to be a champion. Playing in a big stadium and winning the title felt “awesome.”
This game was lopsided statistically. Yet MHS trailed 14-7 at halftime, due to three early turnovers. A fumble set up the game’s first score.
Yet in car terms, Plymouth’s offense “stalled” nearly all afternoon. The big exception was its 56-yard TD lob up for grabs, retaking the lead after Curry’s first interception all year.
Murphy’s rushing attack was hot as Mercury (more car terms) in the first half, and made the winning drive to start the second half. Murphy’s main ground horse McRae ran for 179 yards on 21 carries (8.5 ypc.), to earn game MVP and near 1,200 rushing yards in ‘16.
The pivotal play was McRae’s 47-yard TD scoot two minutes into the third quarter. Then the most dramatic plays of all happened. MHS went for the extra point, to knot the score. But Plymouth jumped offsides — twice in a row. This moved the ball to three-quarters of a yard from the end zone.
Tempting, tempting. Gentry recognized the Christmas gift from his foes, and got daring. “I said OK. Let’s go for two.” Curry agreed “hey, let’s go for it.’” He surged into the end zone on the QB sneak, for the two-point conversion. Media voted Curry the game’s offensive MVP.
Gentry figured “i’d be hard for them to score again. We put our big guys inside,” in the formation to go for a formidable lead. Even if it failed, the defense could keep it close. “Our defense did a heck of a job, holding them to under 140 yards,” Curry said.
“We completely dominated on both lines,” Coach Gentry said. Murphy decisively won battles of first downs (21-3), rushing yards (354-45) and total yards (404-132). K.J. Allen ran for 83 yards, and Slade McTaggart 61 including a 10-yard TD scamper.
Gentry said that in his halftime pep talk, “I said ‘if you didn’t give up the (TD-contributing) turnover and 60-yd pass play, you completely dominated. We just didn’t get into end zone (enough). Just take care of business.’”
In the second half, “we did score on the first possession,” Gentry said. That concluded scoring. The defense took over. Burly yet mobile senior Adam Powell was game defensive MVP.
“That was it,” Gentry said of the last TD. “We kept the ball on their side. We broke a long run, to their three. We kept the pressure on them.”
Coach Gentry combines tough-love accountability with encouragement. He assured a star who fumbled when “trying to get extra yards” to “forget about” mistakes, and stick with extra effort.
In the post-victory huddle, Curry recalled, Gentry “said we earned it. We were the number one seed, with four home games before this. He gave credit to the players. He was so proud of us.” Pre-game, he urged focus and how “God only gives you so many opportunities. It’s what you do with them that sketches your life out.”
MHS’s other nail-biter was in round three of five, when edging Mountain Island Charter 35-34. The foes muffed an extra-point snap. Then MHS drove for the winning field goal. “Our kids knew we could score. We never lost confidence, in what we can do,” Gentry said. “Instead of getting down and blaming everybody else, our kids kept playing hard.”
Murphy rolled in its three other playoff wins, including 38-13 over Mitchell and star QB Ben Young. MHS averaged 41 points in its first four postseason contests. Earlier, the Bulldogs crushed both Smoky Mountain Conference arch-rivals that beat them last year — 2014 1A state champ Robbinsville by 49-7, and later Swain by 35-3. Murphy’s sole loss was to strong-running Franklin.
Gentry took Bulldog reins in 1983, during Ronald Reagan’s first presidential term. If history buff Curry could travel in time, he would visit the Eighties and the political Reagan Revolution.
Earlier in JFK’s Camelot, Gentry was a fast star back and track sprinter for EHS. He could “pick ‘em up and lay ‘em down,” Coach Tom Pryor said in 1963, when Gentry was a senior. Pryor, also was EHS’s esteemed girls’ basketball coach. He was the football defensive coordinator and Bill Whitmire led the offense, as co-head coaches for 11 years starting in ’63.
Gentry’s dramatic games in ’63 include running for three TDs including a 35-yarder, as EHS crushed T.C. Roberson 38-13 in a Tri-County Conference clash. The Yellow Jackets stunned West Henderson 25-6. In that win, Gentry ran for a TD. He caught a pass from star QB Don Dalton to set up a score. And he intercepted Kenny Reynolds, sprinting 45 yards to the end zone on a “pick six.”
These days, Edneyville’s David Gentry orchestrates Murphy Bulldogs heroics, while etching deeper into coaching history.