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Murray Journal

Stellar fall seasons include football, volleyball state tournament berths

Nov 19, 2018 04:26PM ● By Carl Fauver

Murray field goal kicker Riley Murray was the hero in the Spartans’ two, “half-game” playoff victories over West and Skyline, helping his team advance to the Class 5A state football tournament. (Mike Adams)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

Last month we reported on the record-shattering Murray High School girls’ soccer team that earned the program’s first-ever state tournament victories — three of them in a week — to advance to the Class 5A state championship game, where they lost a heartbreaker to Corner Canyon.

The soccer girls wrapped up their fall campaign just before our press deadline, while the Murray football and volleyball teams ended their year just after that deadline.  

Neither of those teams played in state championship games and their efforts were overshadowed by the soccer success. But each of those Spartan teams did show vast improvement — both earning their first post-season wins in three years.

Murray High School football – Class 5A state tournament qualifier (6-7 record)

In only his second season at the helm of the MHS gridiron program, coach Todd Thompson guided the Spartans to triple the number of wins they earned just a year ago. Two of those victories were actually each “half games,” as Murray finished in a three-way tie for the fourth and final state tournament seed, from Region 6.

“We never should have been forced into that playoff because our boys know they could have beaten Skyline during the regular season,” Thompson said. “We let that one slip away and were anxious to get our revenge in the playoff.”

To do that however, Murray first had to win a half-game against West High School. By coin flip, it was decided the playoff — on the neutral Cottonwood High School field — would pit Murray against West in the first half, with the winner advancing to face Skyline for the tournament berth.

The two half-games were quite similar, with Murray winning the coins each time, electing to receive each opening kickoff and then scoring very quickly. The Spartans scored their first touchdown against West just 56 seconds into the contest. Against Skyline it took Murray eight seconds longer, scoring 1 minute, 4 seconds into the do-or-die game.

Likewise, the dramatic endings of each half game were nearly identical, with sophomore place kicker Riley Murray drilling 28-yard field goals (yes, the identical distance for each) to claim the wins. The only difference? The game winning kick against West came with :03 seconds remaining, while the Skyline boot came in overtime.

Murray defeated the West Panthers 24-21 and the Skyline Eagles 17-14, to secure the fourth and final Region 6 berth into the Class 5A state tournament.

“At first I was nervous before the kick against West because each team took a timeout, which gave me a lot of time to think about it,” Murray said. “But eventually I was able to clear my mind and put it in. That made the second kick against Skyline much easier, because I had already made the first one. I was so proud of the way our team played and was happy to help us advance to state.”

The two kicks weren’t nearly as long at the 55-yard field goal Riley hit earlier in the season against Farmington High School. But given the pressure of the moment, they may have been more difficult.

Prior to Murray’s heroics, sophomore quarterback Payson Hadley also had to play well enough to put the Spartans into a position to win. Thompson said that is exactly what he did.

“Payson played very well — very calm and collected in a pressure situation,” Thompson said. “He did well and is likely our number one quarterback going into next season.  I just need him to hit the weight room in the off-season and gain weight himself.”

“I started the final three games of the season and became more comfortable in each one,” Hadley said. “By the time we got to the playoff games, I feel like I had found my groove and it was coming a little easier. I was less nervous and that made it more fun. The end of that Skyline game was exciting. We were running all over the field. It was nice to get the win.”

That emotional ending came immediately after the Spartans’ final heroic play of the day. After Murray had kicked the go ahead field goal on their overtime possession, the Eagles took their turn. A Skyline field goal would have forced a second overtime, while an Eagles touchdown would have won the game for them.

But Murray’s junior free safety Owen Madsen gave his coaches, teammates and the large contingent of Spartan fans their moment to celebrate when he got his only interception of the season to seal the victory.

“It was crazy; I read the play and went right in front of the receiver to pick it off,” Madsen said. “By the time I got up the entire team was running out. Coach Thompson gave me the biggest hug. He has done such a wonderful job this season, to take us from two wins last year to six wins this year.”

The Murray football celebration was short-lived, as the Spartans earned the right to visit undefeated Corner Canyon in the first round of the state tournament and were soundly beaten. But Thompson said, just getting to the post season was a great stepping stone as the players look ahead to next fall.

“We are losing about half of our starters — five on offense and five on defense — due to graduation,” Thompson said. “But we have a great group coming back and the coaching staff should remain intact. Our goal next season will be to finish in the top two in our region so we can host a playoff game. If the players work hard, I think they can do it.”

Murray High School volleyball – Class 5A state tournament qualifier and seventh place finisher

Like their football counterparts, the MHS girls’ volleyball team earned its first post season wins since 2015 this fall. After placing sixth in state in 2015, the Spartans went two-losses-and-out of both the 2016 and 2017 state tournaments.

This year the third place finishers in Region 6 (behind West and Skyline) earned a 3-2 win over Alta and a 3-0 sweep of Skyline in the state tournament, to place seventh. The Murray girls two losses at state were to region champions Skyridge (Region 8) and West (Region 6). 

“The (volleyball) girls really caught fire at the end of the season and played well at state,” said Murray High School Co-Athletic Director Keeko Georgelas. “Their successful finish at state ended our fall sports season for all the teams, which turned out to be one of the best we have had in a long time. Now we are looking ahead to see how the winter teams do.”