DURHAM — Murphy was familiar with the spotlight, while Pamlico was stepping onto the big stage for the first time. It took all of 17 seconds for that experience differential to show itself in the 1A state title game.
Murphy scored early and often, capitalizing on Pamlico mistakes to win the state championship by a 60-27 score. The Bulldogs came within eight points of setting a title game scoring record, and their 39 second-half points were just three shy of the record.
It was Murphy’s 12th trip to the state championship, and the win gave the Bulldogs their ninth crown, most by any Class 1 school since 1986 and second only to Robbinsville’s 13 all-time.
Pamlico, meanwhile, was making its first trip to the football season’s final weekend. First-time jitters were apparent from the outset. Hurricanes rushing leader Savone Tutt fumbled the first snap from scrimmage, and Murphy’s Micah Nelson returned it 35 yards for a score.
“That was crazy, that was over-the-top,” said Nelson, who also started at quarterback for the Bulldogs. On offense, Nelson completed three of five passes for 42 yards and a touchdown while running for 49 yards.
Tutt fumbled again on Pamlico’s next possession, and the Bulldogs turned the ensuing possession into another touchdown. Tutt had 50 rushing yards on the day to go with 47 receiving yards, but the fumbles cast a pall on a sophomore season that saw him rush for 1,679 yards and 20 touchdowns.
“The game didn’t go the way we wanted it to go, but our guys kept fighting the whole time,” Pamlico coach Torrey Norwell said. “That means a lot to me.”
Murphy also recovered a Pamlico fumble on the first play of the second half, which led to a touchdown. Pamlico had four turnovers on the day.
Running back KJ Allen took home game MVP honors, rushing for 153 yards and four touchdowns for Murphy. The performance gave the senior 1,123 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns for the year. He was evaluated for a concussion after taking a hit shortly before half, but he was ruled eligible to continue in the game.
Murphy gained 479 yards on the ground, with three backs topping 100 yards in the game.
“We are a running football team with our offensive line and all the backs we have,” Murphy coach David Gentry said. “That’s just what we’ve got to do.”
The win gave Gentry his eighth state title, all at Murphy. His 345 wins with the Bulldogs are most by any North Carolina coach at a single school, and his 406 overall wins are six away from Jack Holley’s state record.
If anyone could speak about the difficulty in coping with title game pressure, it was the state coaching legend.
“It’s hard to get the first one, you don’t just go walk out there and get one. Your kids have to learn how to do it and they have to be confident that they can do it,” Gentry said. “I’m sure this will be a learning experience for them (Pamlico).”
Pamlico’s 13-2 season was a remarkable turnaround for a core group of players who were 2-10 two seasons ago.
“We don’t want to be the underdog. We want to be considered the big dog at some point,” Norwell said.
2A: Reidsville 31, Northeastern 28
The Rams led for only four seconds in the game, but it was the right four seconds in winning their second state championship in the last three years and 17th overall.
Led by quarterback Aaron Harris, who ran for a 55-yard touchdown and threw for another score, Northeastern (14-1) jumped out to a 21-7 halftime lead. But Reidsville roared back in the second half
The Rams (16-0) tied the score on a pair of third quarter touchdown passes by quarterback Kyle Pinnix — a 5-yard connection with Breon Pass and a 32-yard strike to Logan Graves. Then after Harris put Northeastern back on top with another long touchdown run, it took just three plays for Reidsville to even things up again on a 37-yard pass from Pinnix to Demontez Canada with 3:06 left.
The Rams finished off their rally and took their only lead of the game when Zach Barber hit a 24-yard field goal with just four seconds remaining.
2AA: Shelby 42, North Davidson 21
The Golden Lions (13-3) scored early and often in rolling to the 10th state championship in school history.
Sophomore linebacker Jack Hollifield got things started by intercepting a pass and returning it 93 yards for the game’s first touchdowns midway though the first quarter. Following a three-and-out, Shelby made it 14-0 on a 20-yard scoring pass from Isaiah Bess to Diavonni Daley. Bess and Dailey teamed up again in the second quarter, and Fabian Pettis caught an 18-yard touchdown pass in the third as the Golden Lions extended their advantage to 28-7 before the teams traded scores the rest of the way.
Bess completed 17 of 26 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns against the Lions (13-3) to earn the game’s MVP award.
1AA: Tarboro 50, East Surry 10
The Vikings (15-0) rolled up 442 yards on the ground and held the Cardinals to zero yards rushing in winning their second straight 1AA championship and sixth title overall.
East Surry (11-4) actually scored first when Gunnar Jones picked up a fumble and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown with 4:02 left in the first quarter. But Tarboro bounced back quickly and efficiently by scoring on its next two possessions.
Although the Cardinals briefly slowed the Vikings’ momentum with a field goal late in the first half, Tarboro regained control in the second half by scoring five touchdowns over the final two periods.
Kiami McDaniels finished the game with 112 yards rushing and two touchdowns, earning him MVP honors. Melik Ward led a Tarboro defense that surrendered only 138 yards by making eight tackles, including 2.5 sacks and three other tackles for losses.