Things are good for North Murray football right now — as good as they’ve ever been.
After winning one game in their first two varsity seasons, the Mountaineers are 3-0, making them one of a handful of unbeaten teams in Northwest Georgia with the regular season nearly a quarter finished. Their latest victory came on the program’s longest road trip to date, a 27-13 win Friday at Johnson-Gainesville.
They have a senior backfield whose option attack has put together a reliable rushing game, outscoring opponents 121-71. And they’ve done it all in their first year under coach David Gann, who had decades of experience, but hadn’t ever led a program.
“After getting to evaluate our kids over the summer and seeing that we had a great group of seniors, we felt like we could play with anybody on our schedule,” Gann said. “That is the mentality we’re trying to get our kids believe in — that no matter who we line up against, we’ve got a chance to win. We really are trying to take it one game at a time, so we never thought about 3-0 as much as trying to get that first one.”
For Gann, it’s rewarding to see his players enjoying the excitement of such a start, because they’re the ones who put in the time this summer by spending what could have been lazy days at camps and seven-on-seven competitions. Being able to show that their hard work has rewards means plenty to Gann.
However, he undoubtedly knows the real work is just beginning. The Mountaineers take on Cartersville this Friday as they begin Region 5-3A play in what could be a very good league for 2012.
Of the eight unbeaten teams remaining in Northwest Georgia, four are in this region — Cartersville, Gordon Central, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe and North Murray are all perfect through three games.
With the exception of Cartersville, it’s been a while — or in the Mountaineers’ case, never — since they’ve started a year 3-0. Keeping it going would be an obvious way to prove the success is no fluke.
What does North Murray have going in its favor on that mission?
Well, Gann is hopeful that the first three games have been about more than just being able to say his team is 3-0. While the yardage and point totals mean North Murray’s offense has received a lot of well-deserved attention so far, the defense has held up its end against several different types of schemes — option, power and spread.
“We’ve had some pretty good practice against a lot of things we’re going to see this season,” Gann said. “Cartersville runs the spread, Ringgold is an I power-type team. So, we’ve been able to get our kids a lot of experience for what really matters.”
One other thing North Murray has done well is establish control of the third quarter. In each of its wins, the Mountaineers have used that period to pull away, with Friday’s big play an 84-yard kickoff return by Jacob Mays to start the second half.
Mays is one of those standout seniors who have made Gann’s first year easier, and he obviously took to heart his coaches’ halftime message at Johnson.
“We kind of talked to the kids about being up 7 and that it was very important to take the next drive and go down and get some points out of it,” Gann said. “Jacob didn’t take that long to do that.”
In Friday’s other area games, Christian Heritage (2-1) won 27-3 at Coahulla Creek (1-2), Murray County (0-3) lost 52-0 to Gordon Central (3-0), Northwest Whitfield (2-0) won 20-7 at Pickens (1-1) and Southeast Whitfield lost 38-10 to Gilmer. Dalton had its second and final off date.
In this week’s other area games, Christian Heritage is at Roswell’s Fellowship Christian, Coahulla Creek is at Sonoraville, Dalton is at Gilmer, Murray County is at Armuchee and Northwest plays its home opener against Cass. Southeast is off.
• CHRISTIAN HERITAGE: While the Lions didn’t have a phenomenal offensive night against Coahulla Creek, their fast start was certainly impressive, and more importantly, opportunistic.
Taking advantage of two short punts and a fumble, Christian Heritage scored on each of its first three possessions to start the game and bolt out to a 20-0 lead over the host Colts. A 15-yard punt set the Lions up at the Coahulla Creek 47 to start the game, and it took just two plays — a 41-yard pass from Trevor Brown to Nich Bartley and a 6-yard run from Jake Stokes — to reach the end zone.
The Colts then fumbled on their next play to give CHS the ball at the 11, and three plays later Austin Lowe scored. The Lions had to work a little harder for their third score, but they only had 35 yards to drive. Converting on a fourth-and-2 play and two third downs, Christian Heritage scored on Brown’s 5-yard option run for a 20-0 lead with 1:02 left in the first quarter, and the Lions’ defense did enough to make sure that held up, holding the Colts to a field goal.
The Lions limited the Colts to just 134 yards of total offense and only five first downs on the night.
“This is the biggest win in school history,” Brown said after completing 9 of 13 passes for 118 yards. “It is just a great win against a local school, and that means a lot to us.”
• COAHULLA CREEK: While the Colts’ offense wasn’t able to generate the kind of production needed for a victory, the defense looked a lot better than a 27-3 loss would indicate.
Christian Heritage gained just over 200 yards in total offense, and after the first quarter when the Coahulla Creek defense was put in bad situation after bad situation, the Colts were able to hold their own. Christian Heritage didn’t manage an offensive touchdown the rest of the game.
Cornerback Erick Dominguez had a pair of interceptions in the secondary, and the defensive line did a god job of bottling up the Christian Heritage running attack, limiting the Lions to just 92 yards on 32 attempts.
“After that first quarter, I couldn’t have asked much more from the defense,” Coahulla coach Jared Hamlin said. “We put them in some bad spots in the first quarter, but you could see they did a much better job from there on out.”
The defense will be without starting cornerback Hunter Horn, who was ejected from the game after getting flagged for a flagrant personal foul early in the fourth quarter. It was Horn’s second personal foul of the night, the first coming when he dove to block a Christian Heritage player who was already on the ground after trying to make a tackle on an interception. Horn will have to sit out Friday night’s game at Sonoraville, and according to the GHSA Constitution and By-Laws, he may not “be on the competitive area nor in the team bench area during any contest until the period of suspension has expired.”
• MURRAY COUNTY: Despite the 52-0 loss to a speedy and aggressive Gordon Central team, coach John Hammond sees lots of opportunities to improve in his group. One aspect is ball control, which can be the difference in winning and losing.
“You can’t turn the ball over six times,” Hammond said.“You’ve got to be brutally honest with them. They’re (Gordon Central) better athletically. But you just can’t turn the ball over, and two of them were scoop-and-score. The main thing is when you go out in the second half and it’s zero-zero. You’ve got to earn some respect back.”
The Warriors’ defensive line was a nuisance from the opening snap, with the offense being equally as pesky.
“Athletically, you know, team speed...it’s just hard to match up against them,” Hammond added. “We just couldn’t put any pressure on the quarterback...and you can’t sit back there and cover them for five or six seconds. We covered pretty good, for four seconds or so, but you’ve got to put a little pressure on the quarterback.”
• NORTHWEST: The Bruins didn’t make the most of their offensive opportunities in the first half at Pickens, but officals may have limited the scoring total, too.
After Northwest was stopped on fourth-and-goal from the Pickens’ 1 near the end of the second quarter, the Bruins’ defense held the Dragons to 2 yards on three rushing plays to force them to punt from the end zone. The boot went to the Dragons’ 41, but the Bruins were flagged for holding.
However, instead of putting Northwest back on its own 49, officials let Pickens keep possession and moved the ball up 10 yards for a new set of downs. Once the ball leaves the punter’s foot, it’s officially the receiving team’s possession, and a holding penalty would be an offensive one and assessed from where the play ended. If the infraction happened before the punt, it would be a defensive penalty and only of the 5-yard variety, which would’ve made it fourth-and-3 for Pickens.
Regardless, Northwest’s defense kept the Dragons from picking up a first down on the series after that and got the ball back — but with worse field position.
• SOUTHEAST: Although the Raiders are winless this season, coach Sean Gray saw reasons for optimism after Friday’s loss to Gilmer.
The offense got off to a fast start, going up 7-0 on a crisp opening drive. Quarterback Blake Foster and wide receiver Rhett Harper accounted for all of Southeast’s 70 yards on the drive. Harper had a nifty 41-yard catch-and-run, and Foster ran for a 20-yard touchdown on a draw.
But outside of the opening drive, Southeast had trouble moving the ball. The running game was virtually non-existent outside of Foster’s draw and scrambles.
The defense couldn’t stop the Gilmer rushing attack, but there was a bright spot on that side of the ball for Southeast. Coaches moved defensive end Jayro Perez to linebacker, freeing him up to make plays.
The team’s attitude and desire also stood out to Gray.
— Compiled by Marty Kirkland, Jamie Jones, Dave Gordon, Devin Golden and Chris Whitfield.