FOOTBALL: Murphy bounces Polk from 1A playoffs

Published 3:03 pm Saturday, November 4, 2023

A pair of all-too-familiar issues helped bring Polk County’s football season to an end Friday.

Murphy racked up more than 500 yards rushing and pulled away in the second half to hand the Wolverines a 57-21 setback in the opening round of the state 1A playoffs in Murphy.

Polk County saw its season end with a 4-7 record. Murphy (8-3) moves into a second-round matchup at Bishop McGuinness.

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The Wolverines never found a means to slow Murphy senior Hunter Stalcup, who rushed for 320 yards and four touchdowns. Backfield mate Cameron Clem added 100 yards on 10 carries as the Bulldogs finished with 532 yards rushing, continuing Polk County’s end-of-season struggles in stopping the run.

Yet Polk kept the game close until the mid-point of the third quarter, trailing just 27-14, and had two scoring opportunities in the first half end inside the Murphy 20, echoing the Wolverines’ frustrations in the loss to Tuscola earlier this season. Turn those drives into points and Polk County would have certainly made the cool Cherokee County evening more interesting.

Instead, Keaundrae Green’s 12-yard touchdown reception with 8:50 left in the third quarter led to an emphatic response from Muprhy, which scored on its next two possessions. Stalcup did most of the damage on a 71-yard drive that ended in his 15-yard run with 6:51 left in the quarter, then helped lead a charge on the Bulldogs’ next possession that reached the Polk 32, where Murphy faced fourth-and-6.

The Bulldogs overloaded the left side of the line, and quarterback Brady Grant faked a handoff in that direction to Stalcup before scampering untouched around right end and to the end zone. That score and 2-point conversion gave Murphy a 43-14 lead with a minute left in the period.

The Bulldogs added one more score 48 seconds later as Jude Pinkerton blocked a Polk punt and recovered it in the end zone, with Stalcup adding another 2-point conversion for a 51-14 bulge.

Polk responded with a four-play, 55-yard drive that ended with Green snaring a 24-yard touchdown toss from Carter. But that would be all the scoring for the Wolverines, with Murphy adding a late tally on Jonan Hedden’s 2-yard run with 2:19 remaining.

Most of the first half featured a tight back-and-forth battle before Murphy pulled ahead late in the second quarter.

The Wolverines took the opening kickoff and steamrolled to the end zone, keeping the ball for 12 plays before Carter scrambled 11 yards for the game’s first touchdown. Logan Nodine’s extra point gave Polk a 7-0 advantage.

Stalcup broke free for a 48-yard scoring romp on Murphy’s first drive, but the Wolverines responded with another drive that reached the Murphy 24 before stalling. Stalcup eventually intercepted a fourth-down pass at the 14.

The Wolverines forced a Bulldog punt and began to drive again, this time reaching the 13 before a sack pushed Polk back to the 19. There, on fourth-and-16, Carter tossed a short pass to Loreynzo Sanchez, who reached the 10 before being tackled, ending the Wolverines’ shot at re-taking the lead.

Murphy, instead, did, marching 90 yards in eight plays. Clem ended the drive with a weaving 23-yard run up the middle, and the point after made it a 14-7 Bulldog lead with 5:33 to go.

A chop block and sack ended Polk’s next possession, and Stalcup scored on a 5-yard run to make it 21-7 with 1:19 left in the half. Three incomplete passes and a short punt gave the Bulldogs the ball at the Wolverine 48 with 53 seconds left, and Stalcup scored on a 16-yard run with 31 seconds remaining to give Murphy a 27-7 lead at the break.

Carter finished 15-of-29 for 221 yards, surpassing the 2,000-yard mark for the season on a 21-yard completion to Bryson Jones early in the second quarter. Carter finished with 2,156 yards passing for the season.

Sanchez caught eight passes for 105 yards and also rushed for 69 yards on 16 carries to lead the Polk offense.