CHATSWORTH — In the battle of the unbeatens, the North Murray Mountaineers controlled the first half.
The Cartersville Purple Hurricanes owned the second.
Behind a quick-strike running game and two long, backbreaking touchdown passes, Cartersville pulled away from North Murray in the third and fourth quarters for a 40-22 victory Friday night at Mountaineers Stadium.
What was the difference in second half, when Cartersville (4-0, 1-0 Region 5-3A) erupted for 34 points and held North Murray (3-1, 0-1) to 15 points?
“Numbers, size, athleticism,” North Murray senior Jacob Mays said. “I thought we had them in the first half of the game.”
Actually, North Murray did have Cartersville in the first half.
On North Murray’s second possession of the game, the offense put together a five-play, 80-yard drive. Fullback Christian Bulke ripped off a 66-yard run to Cartersville’s 12-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Brady Swilling took a quarterback sneak 3 yards into the end zone for the first score of the game. An Aaron Mendez extra point made the score 7-0 with 6:40 to go in the first quarter.
The North Murray defense attacked Cartersville quarterback Brooks Barden in the first half, sending multiple blitzers and bringing pressure from seemingly every angle. The pressure forced Barden to miss his first four passes. But Barden eventually broke through the pressure, connecting with receiver Mark Quattlebaum on a 30-yard touchdown pass with 11:32 left in the second quarter. The extra point was missed, and North Murray took a 7-6 lead into halftime.
“In the beginning of the game they were doing all kinds of stuff, a variety of things, and we didn’t know what we could do against them,” said Barden, who threw for three touchdowns. “The second half we shut them down and just ran the ball. We kept our cool and didn’t let it get to us. We knew we were a good football team and we were going to get through it. We came out in the second half and ended up doing some good things.”
And there were plenty of good things for Cartersville.
North Murray scored the opening touchdown of the second half after recovering a Purple Hurricanes fumble. The Mountaineers took the ball over at the Cartersville 41-yard line. A Swilling-to-Mays 6-yard scoring pass, followed by a Mendez extra point, made the score 14-6 with 7:31 left in the third quarter.
Then the big plays came.
Cartersville followed with a two-play drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown run by Brandon Long. The two-point conversion failed.
North Murray punted on its next possession, and Cartersville took over at its 36-yard line. One play later, running back Kalin Heath was in the end zone on a 64-yard touchdown run. A two-point conversion put Cartersville ahead for good, 20-14, with 2:47 remaining in the third quarter.
After three more Cartersville touchdowns — passes of 78 and 30 yards and a 39-yard run — North Murray trailed 40-14 late in the fourth quarter.
Swilling added his second score of the night, a 64-yard scamper, followed by a two-point conversion pass to receiver Hinton McConkey to end the scoring. Swilling had 138 yards rushing on 26 carries and 98 yards passing, with one touchdown and an interception. Mays finished the evening with nine carries for 57 yards and three receptions for 34 yards. Bulke had seven carries for 90 yards.
Despite the loss, North Murray head coach David Gann said he was proud of his team’s effort.
“That’s our first loss of the year, but that’s the proudest I’ve been of our kids,” Gann said. “They really battled and fought hard. They didn’t quit all the way down to the end right there. It was a game where the team that makes the big plays wins, and they made more big plays then we did.”