RALEIGH - Missed opportunities kept piling up for Murphy on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Eventually the stack was too high for the Bulldogs to repeat as NCHSAA 1-A champions.
Shartmontez Ferebee completed just three passes, but two of them were for touchdowns, including a 38-yard reception by DeAndre Phelps with 1 minute, 46 seconds to go in Plymouth's 20-15 win.
Murphy (13-3) put up 278 rushing yards, but turned the ball over on downs three times inside the Vikings' 40-yard line to go scoreless in the second half.
The game ended with an incomplete pass from the Plymouth 20.
Bulldogs senior James Posey ran for two short touchdowns (1 and 2 yards). He appeared to be going in for a third score with 3:25 remaining, when a fumble rolled out of the back of the end zone.
Plymouth (15-1) then proceeded to drive 80 yards for the winning touchdown.
"I'm very proud of our kids, especially the seniors," Bulldogs coach David Gentry said.
"We played hard. We played well enough to win this game, but it just didn't work out. You can't turn the ball over like we did and we weren't able to hold them on third (down) and long. You can't come down here expecting to win if you do those things."
Posey was named Murphy's offensive player of the game, and has scored all five of the team's touchdowns in the past two years at Carter-Finley.
Meanwhile, Matt Guthrie received the defensive award on Saturday after leading the defense with 10 tackles. Austin Satterfield was close behind with nine tackles, followed by Bradley Puccio (six) and Zach Graves (five).
The Vikings got the ball first on Saturday and made it count, taking their opening possession 71 yards. Ferebee's first pass attempt of the game fell into the arms of Demarkius Price for a 46-yard touchdown at the 8:53 mark of the first quarter.
But Ferebee made some errant throws, too.
Brice McKeon brought an end to Plymouth's second possession with an interception in the end zone. Graves later made a pick in the second quarter.
Plymouth rushed for 174 yards as a team, led individually by Quadree Pettiford (98 yards). Carl McCray scored the Vikings' second touchdown on a 1-yard plunge with 11:58 left in the fourth quarter.
Plymouth trailed 15-8 at halftime on Saturday and Plymouth coach Robert Cody said that it was his team's first halftime deficit of the season.
"There's nothing better than this," Cody said.
"I'm so happy for these kids. They are some of the best kids I've ever coached. We came out in the second half and made the plays to win this game, especially on defense."
The Bulldogs had previously brought home state championships in 1974, 1986, 1987, 1991, 1996 and 2011.
Gentry has won a Western North Carolina record 333 games in 41 seasons, but he had never taken a team to three consecutive state championship games until this season.
The Bulldogs lost in 2010, but beat Jones in 2011, a game also played in Raleigh.
"This has been amazing," Murphy senior lineman Brandon Stiles said.
"I've been a starter since I was a freshman. I never thought we'd go to state my sophomore year, but we did. Then we went my junior year and my senior year, too. I wish we had won today, but what are you going to do?"
Bulldogs quarterback Michael Curry is just a sophomore and is expected to return in 2013 as are a pair of 1,000-yard rushers, sophomore Gaige Cox and junior Kenton Braswell.
Cox ran for a team-high 57 yards on Saturday. Braswell (43 yards) came into the game with 996 yards and is a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time in his career.
However, Murphy will have to replace five offensive linemen who were seniors.
Gentry has said he will come back for a 42nd year, but bristled at a question about his team's prospects for next season.
"I don't want to talk about that," Gentry said.
"Win or lose, I would have felt the same way. Right now, I feel for this football team and that's it. I hope we can get back here next year, but nothing is automatic. I just want to go home and get rejuvenated."