History is written by the victors. Rather, in this case, the newspaper headline is written by the victors.
The Mount Airy Bears stormed the playing field Friday night by breaking through a banner that was eerily similar to a certain local newspaper. The headline read, “Bears back for Redemption,” referencing the team’s loss in the regional finals last year.
The Bears have entered the regional final as a one seed the past two years. A 31-21 loss to West Montgomery ended Mount Airy’s 2016 season prematurely, adding extra fuel for the team this fall.
Coming to the Granite City were the Bulldogs of Murphy High School. The defending 1A State Champion Bulldogs were looking to move up to 1AA and capture back-to-back titles.
The visiting Dogs earned the first possession of the game and wasted little time getting into Mount Airy territory. Quarterback Joey Curry connected with Chase Roberts with a 40-yard pass on the Bulldogs’ second play.
Slade McTaggart tried to move deeper into Bear territory but was held up by Grayson Corbin. Grayson had another stop on second down, followed by a sack from Tucker Corbin to bring up fourth-and-17.
Murphy elected to go for broke on the Bears’ 19-yard line and paid for it. A pass from Curry to Kadrian McRae came up short and resulted in a turnover-on-downs.
A slow start plagued the Bears, having to call a timeout before the first play of the drive. Two runs and a short pass from Ian Holder weren’t enough to move the chains for the home team. Mount Airy punted with 5:40 remaining in the first quarter.
Murphy had another explosive play to begin its second drive. McRae plowed through defenders for a 25-yard gain before being finally dragged down by the Bears’ Donavon Greene.
McRae and the Bulldogs played it safe with runs up the middle that eventually rewarded the visitors with a touchdown. Devonte Murray capped off the drive with a three-yard touchdown run with 2:07 left in the first. Katelyn Jones nailed the PAT to put the Dogs up 7-0.
After failing to get a first down on their initial drive, the Bears would score on each of their remaining drives in the half. Johnathon Smith returned the kickoff for a touchdown by running up the home sideline, but a holding penalty on the home team brought it back.
Holder found Greene for the first Mount Airy first down of the evening. Smith and Holder followed up the catch with a number of quick runs.
Holder elected to pass to Greene once more and it paid off. Greene scored on a 53-yard pass from Holder only 90 seconds into the drive to tie the game at 7.
The Bears’ defense was able to contain the bulldozer that was McRae and force third-and-12. McRae broke free for a 13-yard reception to give Murphy a first down. Despite moving the chains, a sack from Benjamin Reales would force Murphy to punt on fourth-and-13.
Mount Airy carried the momentum from its first drive straight into the second. Smith took the ball 59 yards into the end zone on the Bears’ second play of this drive, giving Mount Airy its first lead of the evening at 14-7.
McTaggart and McRae continued to be the workhorses for the Bulldogs. Other than the occasional pass to Micah Nelson, the duo was responsible for moving the chains for Murphy on the ground.
Curry surprised the Mount Airy defense by floating the ball down field to Roberts for yet another explosive play. Roberts was headed for the end zone and would’ve scored if not for a lightning-quick Greene.
Greene’s tackle only delayed the inevitable, with McRae taking the ball 10 yards to tie the game at 14 on the next play.
The score was only tied for about 12 seconds, due to an 88-yard kickoff return from Greene. With no flags on the play, Mount Airy jumped back ahead 21-14.
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors when Greene stripped the ball from a Bulldog less than a minute later. The fumble was picked up by Smith, who ran 40 yards to the end zone to increase the lead to 28-14.
Down two scores with just over three minutes left in the half wasn’t ideal for Murphy. McTaggart ran on three consecutive plays and crossed into Bear territory. The junior running back even converted on fourth-and-2 with just under 60 seconds remaining. A series of short passes from Curry to Nelson and Tanner Creelman put the Dogs in the red zone, but time was running out.
Only 4.5 seconds remained on the clock when Curry targeted Travis Seabolt in the end zone. Curry’s pass came up short, but he was given another opportunity due to a penalty on Mount Airy. Curry once again looked for Seabolt on the un-timed down, and connected this time to bring the game within one score going into halftime.
Mount Airy was forced to punt after three plays on its first possession of the half, similar to the beginning of the game.
McRae bobbled the punt and nearly lost the ball on a huge hit from Quentavious McLeod. McRae held on and the Bulldogs proceeded to march down the field. Additional passes to Nelson and Seabolt kept the drive alive before McRae exploded for a 34-yard run to enter the red zone.
The Bears defense made a stand and contained Murphy for three plays, forcing fourth-and-4. On the Bears’ 14-yard line, Murphy tried to convert, but came up just short.
Holder and Smith kept the ball on the ground to avoid the potential for a safety or interception deep in Bear territory. The two took turns gaining first downs for the home team, including a 22-yard run by Smith on a third down.
With the scoreless third quarter coming to a close, Holder broke the ice with an 11-yard TD run just 50 seconds into the fourth.
Mount Airy nearly forced a three-and-out on the Bulldogs, but Curry heaved the ball deep down field to Nelson for a 34-yard gain and subsequent first down. A couple of big runs by Murphy put them inside the 10-yard line.
Grayson Corbin saved the Bears with a goal-line stop. The next play resulted in a a false start on the Bulldogs, and moved them even further away from the end zone. However, Curry found a wide-open Seabolt for a score to bring the game to 35-28.
Once again not wanting to take any chances at a comeback, Holder took the ball 75 yards on the Bears’ first play of their ensuing drive to extend the lead to 42-28.
The biggest lead of the day for the Bears came moments later. With Murphy deep in its own territory, Greene stripped the ball from McTaggart. The ball was snatched up in the end zone by Greyson Tucker to give Mount Airy a 49-28 lead with 6:16 remaining.
Murphy was desperate to score quickly, but settled for short passes near the sideline. McRae finally got the Dogs in the red zone before scoring a rushing touchdown, but the clock had ticked below four minutes in the meantime.
Still down two touchdowns, Murphy attempted an onside kick. The kick was recovered by the Bears’ McLeod, marking the beginning of the end for the Bulldogs. Smith managed to move the chains enough to run out the clock and send Mount Airy to the NCHSAA 1AA State Championship.
Now 14-0, the Bears will face the winners of the East Region, the Tarboro Vikings. The Vikings (14-0) advanced to the championship by defeating John A. Holmes 50-7.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith