Murphy football coach David Gentry has won a Western North Carolina-record 329 games and five state championships in 41 seasons.
And he’s been involved in a countless number of Smoky Mountain Conference classics with Swain County.
“It’s come down to us and Swain more than it’s come down to anybody else,” Gentry said.
The Bulldogs (9-1, 5-0) and the Maroon Devils (10-0, 5-0) gave WNC its first multi-state championship season in football since 1982 last year when they won the NCHSAA 1-A and 1-AA titles, respectively.
Murphy is the site for tonight’s winner-take-all game for the SMC championship. And as has been the tradition in the rivalry, it falls on the final Friday of the regular season.
Kickoff is set for 7:30.
Swain County has won a school-record 22 consecutive games and junior quarterback Raymius Smith (1,816 yards and 25 touchdowns with seven interceptions) tied Heath Shuler’s mark for single-game passing touchdowns (six) in last Friday’s 55-7 blowout of Rosman.
The Maroon Devils have spent all but one week atop The Associated Press rankings for 1-A state football and moved to No. 1 in the latest Citizen-Times Best of the West rankings.
But they have lost nine of their last 11 trips to Murphy.
“Any time you play a big game with us, homefield does mean a lot,” Gentry said.
“It’s meant a lot over the history of this game. We like playing here. We’ve told the kids, this will probably be the largest crowd they will ever play in front of.”
Gentry and the Bulldogs have won nine consecutive games after stumbling in their season opener against 3-A Franklin.
Simple. Murphy runs, runs and runs some more.
Gage Cox (879 yards, 11 touchdowns), James Posey (817 yards, 18 touchdowns) and Kenton Braswell (702 yards, 11 touchdowns) have helped the Bulldogs rack up 3,484 team rushing yards. They are No. 3 in the latest Associated Press 1-A poll.
Michael Curry (579 yards and eight touchdowns with one interception) has been the starter at quarterback since the Franklin game.
Murphy’s top defenders are Austin Satterfield (7.4 tackles per game), Bradley Puccio (6.8) and Brandon Stiles (6.7).
“They are a strong running football team with an experienced line,” Swain County coach Neil Blankenship said.
“And in football, your line is where it starts. As many athletes as there will be on the field (tonight), a game is determined up front. I have been really impressed with their quarterback. He’s gotten so much better. And defensively, they are much-improved (from 2011) when they were really young. I think it’s going to be a great game. We’re really going to have to be focused.”
Barring an injury, Smith should join Shuler as just the second Swain quarterback to throw for more than 2,000 yards in a season.
Shuler’s brother, Benjie, also continued his career in college at the University of Tennessee and is the only Maroon Devils receiver to record 1,000 or more yards in a season.
Former All-WNC selection Matthew Maennle (44 receptions for 870 yards) and Greg Tisho (42 receptions for 963 yards and 14 touchdowns) are closing in on that benchmark.
Garrett Lane (801 yards, 16 touchdowns) has been Swain County’s primary rusher.
The Maroon Devils and leading tacklers Jacob Wildcatt (40, 16 for a loss), Luis Saeli (36) and Corbin Panther (32.5, 9.5 for a loss) romped past Murphy, 28-0, last year.
“Swain has got a really fine football team, but I think we do, too,” Gentry said.
“We didn’t play very well last year against Swain and I’m sure they had a lot to do with it. We were embarrassed a little bit down there. We embarrassed ourselves, too. We haven’t been beat like that in a long time. I hope (tonight) is another classic, not like last year.”