By Charles Curcio, Sports Editor
Wednesday, November 28, 2012 —
The Albemarle Bulldogs football squad once again found themselves hosting the Murphy Bulldogs on Friday night with both teams one win away from a shot at a state championship.
Making the five-hour drive down from the mountains, Murphy looked to set a school record by winning their third straight regional championship for a program that has a tradition of winning with a 2A state title and five 1A championships.
Albemarle brought their own tradition of excellence to the table Friday night as well, having won three 1AA titles from 2001-2003 and back-to-back 1AA titles in 2009 and 2010.
Two evenly-matched teams, both ranked all season long in numerous state 1A polls, put up fairly even numbers in Friday’s game, but in the end, the most critical numbers were the three points that separated the two teams as Albemarle suffered a 27-24 loss to Murphy.
Deon Christian had a huge night for Albemarle (13-2) both through the air and on the ground.
Despite a slow start throwing the ball in the first half, Christian had just five incompletions in the game, going 12-for-17 with a touchdown.
On the ground, Christian’s scrambling kept drives alive and frustrated the Murphy defense. Christian finished with 115 net yards on 23 carries.
The two teams exchanged three-and-outs to start, with Albemarle going three-and-out a second time and punting the ball to the Murphy 40-yard line.
On the next play, junior running back Kenton Braswell got his first carry of the game, a 45-yard scamper up the middle down to the Albemarle 15-yard line, with Jay Dockery saving a touchdown on the play with a tackle.
Seven plays later, including converting a fourth-and-one at the Albemarle 6, Murphy (13-2) took a lead that they would not lose with a James-Posey one-yard score. Chris Tarnowski’s extra point hit the upright to keep the game 6-0.
The score by Murphy awoke the Albemarle offense as the blue-and-white clad Bulldogs marched down the field to put points on the board. Albemarle went 71 yards in 12 plays, down to the 9-yard line, but had to settle for a Julio Cisneros 26-yard field goal to cut the lead in half early in the second quarter.
Murphy answered Albemarle’s score four minutes later on a drive that included another long Braswell run, this one 40 yards down to the Albemarle 5-yard line. Braswell scored the first of his three touchdowns and Murphy led by the score of 13-3.
Albemarle again answered Murphy’s score on their next drive, this time finding the endzone on a seven-play drive that benefitted from a Markez Brown 14-yard run and a 15-yard penalty on Murphy as well. Kevin McKinney notched the first of his two touchdowns in the game to again cut the lead to three points, which became a prevailing theme in the game.
Albemarle nearly tied the game in the final seconds after Martinus Crump intercepted a Michael Curry pass with 18 seconds on the clock. Albemarle got down to the Murphy 24 and Cisneros tried a 41-yard field goal that had the distance but was just wide of the left upright.
On Albemarle’s first possession of the third quarter, Deon Christian looked to try to convert a third down and 11 at the Murphy 28, but he was blasted from the blind side by Braswell, who eventually also recovered the fumble as well.
Using that momentum, Murphy went 61 yards in six plays to reestablish a 10-point lead, getting a 19-yard pass play to Bryce McKeon on the drive to eventually set up Braswell’s second touchdown of the game for a 20-10 Murphy lead.
As the pattern had been all game, Albemarle again immediately responded to the Murphy touchdown with points of their own on the ensuing drive.
This time, Christian and wide receiver Timmie White connected twice on a seven-play, 74-yard scoring drive. Their first was for a 22-yard gain and the other for the touchdown as Christian rolled to his left and found White in front of two Murphy defenders just inside the endzone for the score. Cisneros’ extra point again brought Albemarle to within three points 20-17.
Murphy this time answered Albemarle’s scoring drive with one of their own, a 12-play, 72-yard drive that took 5:41 off the clock into the fourth quarter. Braswell scored his third touchdown of the game on fourth down from the two-yard line and Tarnowski’s extra point made it 27-17.
But the proud Albemarle squad was not yet ready to yield as Christian and Co. put together a 15-play, 76-yard five-minute drive to again pull within three points. Albemarle converted a fourth-down and one at their 33-yard line on the drive, as well as another spectacular play when Christian picked up his own fumble and ran eight yards for a first down. Christian found White for a 17-yard strike to inside the redzone, and McKinney scored his 22nd touchdown of the season to make it 27-24 in favor of Murphy.
The visiting Bulldogs then faced the task of running the clock out with Albemarle having just one timeout left. Braswell broke off a 49-yard run on third-and-8 at the Murphy 29, but Albemarle’s “Oak Tree” defense stood tall and stopped Murphy on a fourth-and-seven at the Albemarle 22, giving Christian the ball back with 1:03 on the clock.
After being sacked on first down and throwing incomplete on second down, Christian put the ball in the air for Paul Cagle on a fly pattern down the Albemarle sideline. Murphy’s Tyler Wiley appeared to come over and make contact with Cagle before the ball got there, but no flag was forthcoming.
“It looked like [Wiley] got there a little early and kind of tackled our kid. You would think that would be automatic pass interference, but it wasn’t called, so we had to get ready to play another down,” Albemarle Head Coach Danny Akins said.
That next down proved to be Albemarle’s final offensive play of the season as Christian was sacked by Braswell and Bradley Puccio. Murphy took over on downs and took a knee to end the game.
Regarding Christian’s performance, Akins said, “He had a big game, that’s for sure. It was one of those games where you put the ball in one man’s hands and you want him to make a play. He made several plays and kept drives alive.”
For Akins, Friday’s loss was just the second in 13 playoff games since taking over as head coach in 2010 after numerous years as an assistant at Albemarle. His record over three years is 38-7, which includes three forfeit loss in 2010.
Albemarle graduates 19 seniors from this years team, including a number of starters on offense and defense.
M 6 7 7 7 27
A 0 10 7 7 24
M – James Posey 1 run (kick failed), 3:22, 1st
A – Julio Cisneros FG 26, 11:50, 2nd
M – Kenton Braswell 1 run (Chris Tarnowski kick), 7:04, 2nd
A – Kevin McKinney 6 run (Cisneros kick), 1:20, 2nd
M – Braswell 25 run (Tarnowski kick), 5:48, 3rd
A – Timmie White 10 pass from Deon Christian (Cisneros kick), 3:20. 3re
M – Braswell 2 run (Tarnowski kick), 9:39, 4th
A – McKinney 1 run (Cisneros kick), 4:24, 4th
1st Downs 18 25
Rushing 47-306 47-205
Passing 67 131
C-A-I 6-10-1 12-17-0
Punts 4-33.5 4-30.3
Penalties 7-49 3-16
Fum.-Lst. 1-0 2-1
3rd Down 4-11 1-9
4th Down 2-3 0-1
TOP 24:26 23:34
Rushing: M – Braswell 17-213, 3 TD; Posey 19-82, TD; Curry 5-4; Cox 4-5; Wiley 2-2. A – Christian 23-115; McKinney 17-83, 2 TD; Brown 6-6; Autry 1-1.
Passing: M – Curry 6-10-1, 67 yds. A – Christian 12-17-0, 131 yds, TD.
Receiving: M – McKeon 3-39; Posey 3-28. A – White 5-69, TD; Brown 4-25; McKinney 1-27; Cagle 1-9; Currie 1-1.