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Coaches take different paths to title games

10:06 PM, Nov. 27, 2012 EST

Neil Blankenship has won more games in his first year (15) than any football coach in Swain County history. / Colby Rabon/SPECIAL TO THE CITIZEN-TIMES


The number certainly has a ring to it.

Murphy coach David Gentry has won a Western North Carolina-record 333 football games.

One more would sure be nice Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.

Gentry and the Bulldogs (13-2) take on Plymouth (14-1) in the NCHSAA 1-A championship game at 11 a.m.

For all the things that Gentry has done in an illustrious 41-year career, this is the first time that he's taken three consecutive teams to a state-championship game -- Murphy lost in 2010 to Wallace-Rose Hill but beat Jones in 2011.

Five previous Gentry teams have won state titles (1986, 1987, 1991, 1996 and 2011).

"This has been real special," Gentry said.

"We've been down here two years (in a row) previously in 1986 and 1987, but never three years in a row. I've really enjoyed this year. Last year was a hard year because we were so young and you had to coach every minute. You still have to coach, but now we're reaping the harvest from what we sowed last year."

Gentry passed Babe Howell (301) for the WNC coaching wins record in 2010, but has said that retirement is not on the table until at least 2014 when his son, Bulldogs junior defensive back/wide receiver Davis Gentry, graduates.

Murphy has more than 50 varsity players and only 15 are seniors. Leading rusher Gaige Cox (1,264 yards, 16 touchdowns) and quarterback Michael Curry (1,013 yards and 14 touchdowns with five interceptions) are just sophomores.

Junior Kenton Braswell (996 yards, 15 touchdowns) ran for 217 yards and two touchdowns in Friday's 27-24 regional-championship win at Albemarle.

"I don't even want to think about next year," Gentry said.

"How many times in Western North Carolina or even in the state has a team gone to a state championship game three years in a row? It just doesn't happen that often. And it really is a special moment for these seniors."

Blankenship: 'I've been fortunate'

Neil Blankenship is not the average first-year head coach.

Blankenship had been a trusty assistant at Swain County for 19 years before he got a promotion last January.

The results speak for themselves.

Blankenship has won more games in his inaugural season (15) than any football coach in Maroon Devils history.

Swain County (15-0) can set a school record for single-season victories if it beats Southwest Onslow (13-1) in Saturday's NCHSAA 1-AA championship game at Carter-Finley.

Kickoff is set for 3 p.m.

"I've been fortunate. Not a lot of coaches get to spend their first year around a group of kids like this," said Blankenship, who graduated from Swain County in 1988.

"And I have an unbelievable staff around me. I have so many coaches who contribute so much. That's what it's all about."

Blankenship has maintained his duties as the Maroon Devils' defensive coordinator, a unit that is arguably the chief strength for the defending 1-AA state champions.

Corbin Panther (68.5 tackles, 15.5 for a loss), Payton Parker (53), Jacob Wildcatt (51, 22.5 for a loss), Nathan Sellers (51) and Luis Saeli (48) have helped hold opponents to 14.3 points per game.

Hayden Neadeau has recovered six fumbles, Panther has scooped up five and Saeli has grabbed four.

Five players have made multiple interceptions -- Matthew Maennle (eight), Sean Webb (five), Dakota Brown (three), Cody Epps (three) and Greg Tisho (two).

Swain County has previously won state football championships in 1979, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1990, 2001, 2004 and 2011.




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