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Murray Journal

Murray football team treats its fans to their first home playoff win in nearly a quarter century

Nov 18, 2019 03:27PM ● By Carl Fauver

Third-year head coach Todd Thompson did some up-close-and-personal coaching during the Spartans’ Class 5A State Tournament games. (Mike Adams)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

A Murray High School football season filled with many milestones ended on a sour note – as they do for every team that fails to hoist the state championship trophy – with a 49-7 loss in the second round of the Class 5A State Tournament at Olympus.

The Spartans’ final loss of the season came against the same Titan team that handed them their first loss – 42-7 in week four.

Under third-year MHS head coach Todd Thompson – a 1991 Murray graduate himself – the senior-laden Spartans enjoyed their best season in years.

Only two other schools, Highland and Brighton, defeated Murray during their 8-4 campaign. And the Spartans accomplished many things the team had not done in years:

  • First home football playoff victory since 1995
  • First 3-0 season start since 1994
  • Most points in a game (69 vs. Cottonwood) since at least 1970 (as far back as records go) 
  • First road win at Skyline High School after 11 consecutive losses there 
  • First time to host a state tournament game since 2004 

“The kids practiced hard and paid attention to details,” Thompson said. “I’m very proud of them – and of our season.”

Placing fourth in Class 5A Region 6 – behind the only three teams to beat them all year, Olympus, Brighton and Highland – the Spartans entered the playoffs seeded 13.  

In every season of Utah high school football until this year, predetermined playoff pairings guaranteed teams faced opponents from other regions. But format changes this year, in all team sports, determined pairings based on a rating system. For Murray, that meant rematches of Region 6 games, in both of their postseason encounters.

In their first home playoff football game in 15 years, the Spartans hosted the Skyline Eagles, the 20 seed, and beat them by a similar score to their previous matchup. The playoff winning score was 36-28 while the regular season victory ended 24-17 for Murray. 

“Every year has gotten better and better (under head coach Thompson) and we are headed in a great, positive direction,” said MHS Co-Athletic Director Keeko Georgelas. “I am super proud of Todd, especially as a Murray graduate himself. He cares so much about his kids. So far he’s right on target doing everything we want to get done.”

Despite all the team’s on-the-field success, Georgelas is even more pleased with what’s happening when football players are not wearing cleats and helmets.

“The best thing Todd is doing is making sure these kids are accountable in the classroom,” Georgelas added. “He has a study hall for them and our football player grades are better than they have been for years. I am just tickled pink.”

With improved records in each of the past three seasons, Thompson and his players will face a challenge keeping that string alive in 2020. Next spring’s MHS graduation will decimate their ranks. Of the 22 starting positions this season (11 offense / 11 defense), 21 were filled by seniors. Six of those were two-way starters.

“We do have some younger kids coming up – kids who played but did not start – so the cupboard won’t be completely bare,” Thompson said. “But, yes, we will have some holes to fill.”

Ironically, with seniors filling every starting position except one – when everyone was healthy – that lone, non-senior starter does not even attend Murray High. Freshman Johnny Brambila walked across State Street to attend practice each afternoon, from Hillcrest Junior High.

“That was one of my goals, to start varsity as a ninth grader,” Brambila said. “I was definitely nervous when practice first began. But within a couple of days I knew I could compete with the older players. My little league coaches really prepared me for the challenges I faced.”

Playing Ute Conference football for Murray since age 7, Brambila has grown to a 6-foot-1 and 225-pound player. He started at defensive end and also saw extensive action at offensive guard.

“I feel great about our season; it was one of (Murray’s) best in year,” he concluded. “What helped us is that we ended up working together well and bonding.”

Just a year older than Brambila, another key Spartan returner will be backup sophomore quarterback Kyler Nielsen, who filled in extensively as the Murray signal caller when senior QB Jarrett Henriksen was injured.

“Next season will be a big rebuilding year with 22 seniors leaving,” the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Nielsen admitted. “But I know we are motivated to work hard (during the offseason) and I think we will be OK. This team was such a brotherhood. That environment of working together helped us all improve. Coach Thompson did a great job keeping us all on the same page.”

A third key returner next year is expected to be 6-foot-1, 205-pound running back Dashaud Seymour, who transferred into Murray from Woods Cross High School near the end of last school year, and played football this season as a junior.

“Murray is a great place to go to school; I enjoyed it here so much more (than Woods Cross),” Seymour said. “I grew so close to my teammates as the season went along. It was amazing.”

“Kyler (Nielsen) is a hard-nosed athlete who gives us a good running option at the quarterback position,” Thompson said of his returning quarterback. Of the other two key returners he added, “Dashaud (Seymour) will likely be a two-way starter next year, but he needs to focus on his schoolwork. And Johnny (Brambila) is a quick learner who might also start both ways.”

Thompson planned to end the season holding exit interviews with each of his players. He wanted as many of them as possible to compete for other Murray teams this winter and next spring. And, after giving them a couple of weeks to “decompress,” he anticipated getting them back, busy in the weight room, in December.

“We didn’t like the way our season ended (with the loss at Olympus),” Thompson concluded. “But we did have a better season than Murray has had in years. These are just good, hard-working kids. It was a fun year.”