The history-making night for the North Murray Mountaineers and quarterback Ladd McConkey had an inauspicious start.
Needing a win to secure the program's first Region 6-AAA championship Friday at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, North Murray had three turnovers in just more than a quarter but ended the first half with 17 points in the final three minutes. With McConkey passing for three touchdowns and running for another, the Mountaineers ended up routing the Warriors 31-0.
McConkey, who had a seven-touchdown game earlier in the season, was 12-for-16 passing for 165 yards and touchdown passes of 23 yards to Chaisen Buckner, 6 yards to Dante Tidwell and 58 yards to Landon Burrell. His 45-yard scoring run late in the first half, part of a 156-yard rushing night for the senior, broke the scoreless tie and helped propel North Murray (8-1, 7-0) to the quick run.
"Ladd's been hurt a bit with his shoulder, but one thing with him, he's just a playmaker with the ball in his hands," North Murray coach Preston Poag said. "He's such a threat with his legs, and he made some nice throws when we needed them
"We didn't start off well, but the thing about this team is they keep fighting. We talked all week about how special this could be. Not many people get to play for a region championship. All the hard work over the past four years paid off tonight."
The win ended Calhoun's 18-year run of region titles, the longest in state history, though not all of them came in 6-AAA.
It's also the first region football title ever for North Murray, which played its first full varsity season in 2010.
The game was marred by turnovers — five for LFO and four for North Murray — and too much after-the-play contact for the first three quarters. The Warriors (4-5, 4-3) squandered two scoring opportunities in the first half after North Murray turnovers.
The Mountaineers finally got their offense going after the defense forced a punt to set them up at the LFO 48 late in the half. On second down, McConkey faked a handoff to Tidwell and turned upfield for the score.
The Warriors fumbled the ensuing kickoff, a low line drive, and three plays later McConkey connected with Buckner for a 14-0 lead. A late fumble recovery and an LFO personal foul led to Owen Hannah's 34-yard field goal and a 17-0 lead.
"They drove it down there a couple of times, but our defense played well again," Poag said. "That's the biggest difference in our team, the defense, and it comes down to all the older guys who have played since they were sophomores."
The game got extra chippy early in the third quarter when, after an exchange of personal fouls and one that was missed by the officials, players and coaches had to be separated. Two more personal fouls ensued, one on each team, before emotions calmed down and the Mountaineers resumed their title chase.
LFO put together its best drive midway through the quarter, reaching the North Murray 29, but turned the ball over on downs. Moments later McConkey carried for 26 yards to the 16 and Tidwell ran for 15 and then took a short pass to the end zone for a 24-0 lead.
The Mountaineers, who lost their opener to state-ranked Rabun County, held LFO to 96 total yards and have now recorded two shutouts and held three other opponents to fewer than 10 points. They end the regular season at home against Sonoraville before hosting a first-round playoff game.
LFO must defeat Calhoun next week to earn its third consecutive playoff berth.