MITCHELL FALLS TO MURPHY
LEDGER – The season is over for the Mitchell High School varsity football team.
The visiting No. 3 seed Murphy Bulldogs edged No. 2 seed Mitchell 33-29 Friday, Nov. 30, in a cold, wet third-round game of the 1A state playoffs.
Murphy advances to the regional finals where it will meet No. 4 seed Robbinsville, which knocked off No. 1 seed Thomas Jefferson Academy in the third round.
The Mountaineers finish the season 10-3, marking the fourth-straight season the team has won double-digit games under head coach Travise Pitman.
Travise Pitman is 57-14 as the team’s head coach, and he has guided his team into the state playoffs in each of his five seasons at the helm.
Mitchell’s loss snaps a five-game winning streak that started after the team fell 24-16 to rival Mountain Heritage. The team used another five-game winning streak to gain momentum after falling 34-21 to Erwin in Week 1.
Mitchell’s 9-2 overall mark and a 4-1 record in Western Highlands Conference play was enough for a first-round bye. Following the bye, Mitchell beat Cherokee 21-13 to advance to face Murphy, which entered the game with a 10-game winning streak.
The Mountaineers received the ball to start the game and got off to a quick start against the Bulldogs, capping off a nine-play, 58-yard scoring drive that burned nearly five minutes off the clock with a three-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Noah Pitman.
Noah Pitman’s touchdown run, which came after the middle of Mitchell’s offensive line opened up a massive hole for the quarterback to meander straight through, ignited the home crowd and the Mitchell sideline, but Murphy answered with an impressive drive of its own less than five minutes later.
The Bulldogs scoring drive was an 11-play, 80-yard trek that senior Micah Nelson capped with a one-yard touchdown dive that tied the game at 7-7.
Early in the second quarter, a snap flew over the head of Murphy punter Payton McCracken, resulting in a safety for the Mountaineers that gave them a 9-7 lead.
Senior running back Landon Miller scored a 24-yard rushing touchdown midway through the second quarter to put Mitchell up 16-7, but Murphy answered with a one-yard touchdown dive from senior Slade McTaggart.
After a missed extra point by the Bulldogs, Mitchell led 16-13 at halftime.
McTaggart struck again with his second rushing touchdown of the night – this time from 16 yards out – midway through the third quarter to give the visitors their first lead, 20-16.
Noah Pitman found junior receiver Tyler McKinney twice for touchdowns late in the third quarter – a 26-yard connection and a 40-yard strike – that again gave Mitchell the lead at 29-20.
Murphy quickly regained momentum with a 26-yard rushing touchdown from senior fullback Chase Roberts that trimmed the Mitchell lead to 29-27.
After a pair of defensive stops, the Bulldogs used their hard-nosed rushing attack to slip ahead late in the final quarter.
Stout junior running back Devonte Murray plowed through the Mitchell line and dragged several defenders with him as his teammates helped push the pile into the end zone, putting the visitors ahead 33-29 after a failed 2-point attempt.
Mitchell had one final shot to score, but a pair of desperation Noah Pitman passes fell incomplete, and the Mountaineers turned the ball over on downs, allowing Murphy to run out the clock.
An interception returned for a touchdown by Mitchell was called back after a roughing the passer penalty, and a McKinney punt return for a touchdown was called back for an illegal block in the back penalty, negating two scores for the Mountaineers in the game.
Noah Pitman led all rushers with 24 carries for 167 yards and a touchdown. He completed 5-of-11 passes for 99 yards and two scores.
Miller ran 11 times for 56 yards and a score and chipped in two receptions for 15 yards. McKinney registered the other three receptions and racked up 84 receiving yards to complement two touchdowns.
Junior lineman Matthew Gilbert led the Mitchell defense with eight solo tackles. Miller recorded a game-high two tackles for a loss, and sophomore Ty Sparks had one tackle for a loss.
As the clock expired, some Mitchell players embraced each other and others walked solemnly off the field alone with their heads down.
The team gathered near the entrance hill they excitedly sprinted down during eight home games this season, and led by Travise Pitman, said a final eulogy to the 2018 campaign.
Some players stoically watched their coach deliver his final address of the season while others buried their face in their hands and wept.
Several seniors simply allowed silent tears to run down their face as they listened to their high school coach for the final time. Several of the senior leaders gritted their teeth in an unsuccessful attempt to allow emotion to boil over in the form of tears.
“Life will give you challenges,” Travise Pitman said to his team. “But you’ll overcome them. I love you like my own sons. You guys are my sons.”