ROBBINSVILLE – Austin Hedrick already has the memories and a ring from last year.
His reasons for wanting another NCHSAA 1-A championship run with Robbinsville are entirely personal.
“Last year was great, but I wasn’t a senior then,” said Hedrick, who was named the 2014 Smoky Mountain Conference Lineman of the Year on the heels of a 16-0 season for the Black Knights.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s entirely yours. For the seniors, this is our time. This is everything we’ve worked for, and it’s the greatest feeling ever.”
Hedrick’s blocking helped second-seeded Robbinsville win its last game of the season at Big Oaks Stadium, Friday’s 20-14 triumph over visiting No. 3 Murphy in the third round of the playoffs.
Colton Millsaps passed for 170 yards with a pair of touchdown throws to fellow senior Lane Millsaps. Their 40-yard connection with 9:47 to play broke a 14-14 tie and sent the Black Knights (11-2) to next week’s 1-A Western Regional championship game.
They must hit the road to top-seeded Community School of Davidson (12-2) which plays its home games at Charlotte’s North Mecklenburg High.
“Our coaches had a great plan in place,” Robbinsville coach Dee Walsh said.
“It was everything you expect when we play Murphy. I thought Murphy’s kids played great; our kids just played a little better.”
The Black Knights and Bulldogs (10-4) have 22 combined state football championships between them since 1960. Robbinsville has now won four consecutive games in the Smoky Mountain Conference series, including an Oct. 5 regular-season tilt in Cherokee County (the score that night was 21-13).
And after Friday’s win, Robbinsville still has a chance to become the first Western North Carolina football program to repeat as a NCHSAA champion since Swain County’s three-year run from 1988 to 1990.
The Black Knights went to their locker room with a 14-7 halftime lead Friday.
Colton Millsaps, who recently became a 1,000-yard passer for the first time, called his own number on a 9-yard quarterback keeper with 5:29 to go in the first quarter. The Black Knights’ next touchdown came on a 5-yard pass from Millsaps to Lane Millsaps at the 5:20 mark of the second quarter.
All told, the home team used 14:19 worth of possession time on its first two scoring drives.
The Bulldogs answered with just 4:19 to go until halftime when Joey Curry dumped off a short pass to Anthony Conners. He did the majority of the work to turn that catch into a 52-yard touchdown reception.
Curry finished with 95 yards and 50 rushing. Kadrian McRae led the way with 56 yards across the ground for Murphy. Freshman Riley Blalock added 47 and scored his team’s second touchdown on a 2-yard run with 1:10 remaining in the third quarter.
Blalock’s touchdown came on a fourth-down gamble by the Bulldogs. Their very first possession ended with a turnover on downs at the Robbinsville 15-yard line.
Murphy got the ball back one final time on its 12-yard line with 2:33 remaining, but couldn’t do anything with it. Robbinsville was led in rushing by Colby Hemphill (88 yards) and Lane Millsaps (59). Lane Millsaps had four catches for 67 yards, Kyler Brooks made three receptions for 51 yards and Reece Postell snared two balls for 45 yards.
Murphy’s Conners made three receptions for 63 yards.
“I’m very proud of our kids. They played a hard, tough football game,” Bulldogs coach David Gentry said.
“Robbinsville’s kids played hard, too. That’s two good programs.”
Gentry has won a WNC record 366 career games and been at Murphy since 1983.
“I’m coming back (in 2016),” Gentry said.
“We’ve got a good football team and a lot of young kids coming back, too. We’ll be back.”
Friday was the 10th consecutive win for Robbinsville after starting its season 1-2.