WNC powers Murphy, Pisgah kick off 2017 prep football season

“Thursday Night Lights” debuts at 7 p.m. on WMYA/Channel 40 

Over the past half-century, Murphy High and Pisgah have combined to play nearly 1,300 football games.

Both schools have a sustained history of excellence in the sport – Murphy has won eight state titles, Pisgah has earned four championships, and both rank among the leaders in career wins among Western North Carolina schools.

But the two powers have never played each other – until now.

When the Black Bears and Bulldogs square off Thursday night at Western Carolina’s Whitmire Stadium, it will mark a titanic tip off to the 2017 prep football schedule.

The 7 p.m. kickoff is also the start of Thursday Night Lights, a schedule of 11 games that will air on WMYA/Channel 40.

And hopefully it is also the genesis of a spirited rivalry between the two programs recognized as among the best in the mountains.

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“It’s a great game to kick off the season, and we’re excited to be a part of it,” said Murphy coach David Gentry, who spent the off-season celebrating his seventh state title with the Bulldogs and being selected to the WNC Sports Hall of Fame.

Gentry, the WNC all-time leader among high-school football coaches with 381 career wins, is excited to be part of a season opener with Pisgah.

“These are two of the best programs around, historically and in recent years,” he said. “It’s exciting to see where we stack up against a team like Pisgah.”

Pisgah began playing football in 1966 and has won more than 350 games in that span. In the past four seasons since coach Brett Chappell took over, the Bears are 39-13. Last year Pisgah finished 12-2 and won a share of the WNC Athletic Conference with a 6-1 mark.

Murphy is on the best roll of its illustrious history that includes a 387-168-1 mark since 1972.

The Bulldogs have won 10 or more games for a school-record seven straight seasons, posting an 86-22 mark in that span. Gentry has led Murphy to five state 1-A title games in those seven seasons, winning championships in 2011, ’13 and last season.

And both teams are loaded with returning talent heading into Thursday night’s match-up. Pisgah has 12 starters back, including seven from an offense that scored 28 points or more eight times last season.

That unit is led by quarterback Tanner Wike, who threw for 1,989 yards and 21 touchdowns as a sophomore in ’16, and four returning starters on the line, including league lineman of the year Ashton Hill.

Murphy has 14 starters back and features a balanced offense, led by quarterback Joey Curry (1,791 yards passing, 16 touchdowns, just one interception) and tailback Kadrian McRae (1,196 yards rushing, 16 TDs).

Gentry, with a WNC-best 14-game winning streak heading into the season opener, said he enjoys playing quality opponents early in the schedule to get his team ready for the rugged Smoky Mountain Conference season.

“We played a good Franklin team (a 42-7 loss) early last year and we learned a lot about where we were and what we needed to work on,” he said.

“When you play Little Sisters of the Poor, you’re not going to be tested. I guarantee Pisgah is going to test us.”