Written by Brandon Stephens
Cherokee is a good team and winning the first conference game is IMPORTANT!
(Cherokee, NC) – – Conference play is underway for the Murphy Bulldogs (3-and-2) and most of the other Smoky Mountain Conference teams this coming Friday (October 1, 2021). The Cherokee Braves will host the Bulldogs for the first of five conference games that will round out the second half of the season. Murphy players, coaches, and fans remember the athletic ability of Braves Quarterback Donald Bradley, who can keep opponents guessing and moving.
You may get a feeling you are watching a young Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens) when watching Donald Bradley move the Braves. He is a great passer; makes good things happen for the Braves when he runs the ball; and will run some option. Published reports show Bradley completes at least 50 percent of his passes, which make up about 80 percent of the Braves offensive strategy. He leads the team in rushing. One may think Cherokee has a one-man football team. “There is more than just Donald Bradley. He is a big part of it. You’ve got to start with Donald Bradley. They (Cherokee Braves) do an outstanding job on offense. Their offensive line is big, as they always are. They have a really good left tackle (Sam Bernhisel – 6’5 295 pounds),” Murphy Head Coach Joseph Watson explains.
Rosman being out of the conference this year, makes Cherokee one of the longer conference road trips the Bulldogs will make. The long road trip is one thing, but the facilities at Cherokee are another, which includes a turf field. That can give a difference “bounce” to the ball. Coach Watson adds, “They (Cherokee) have great facilities. The best in western North Carolina. We have been lucky. We have played on turf fields the last two weeks. This kinda helps us out (going to Cherokee). It’s always a fight (challenge) when you go over there to Cherokee. We have to get out mind right.”
How does Cherokee Look?
Cherokee is a good passing team and will move on the rush when needed. Braves Running Back Chase Calhoun and sometimes Sophomore Michael Driver will bust through the line on a trap or drive. Otherwise, Donald Bradley will juke the opponent on a quarterback design run. The strong side of the line is wherever Senior Sam Bernhisel is located, which is the left side. He opens the door for the offensive attack. Bradley alone averages 9 yards on a rush. Bradley likes to light up the sky with a pass to Junior Receiver Bitiste Pepion or Sophomore Raymond Bradley. For secondary defenders like Hunter Laney, the eyes are going to be on Bradley as this is the first thought when you mention Cherokee. “Don Bradley really. It’s because he is such a good player. He runs it all night and is pretty dangerous. He is good at running the ball and making decisions really quickly,” Murphy Defensive Back Hunter Laney explains.
Cherokee Braves defense will keep its opponents honest. Braves will stack up in a 4-4 but will look like a “62” set and play cover 3. That may open the door for a few more Kellen Rumfelt passes. “They (Cherokee) like to run cover 3 (defense) and some man-to-man. I think over all if we just play by our rules and do what we do, it will be a good outcome,” says Murphy Quarterback Kellen Rumfelt. Rumfelt completed 6-of-11 passes this past Friday night against Union County.
Cherokee is 2-and-2 going into conference play with Murphy. The Braves dropped its first game to Smoky Mountain High in Sylva, 41-to-13. Cherokee bounced back with a 39-to-21 win over Avery County’s Vikings in game two. Things went well as the Braves shut out North Georgia 42-to-nothing. The most recent game was close for Cherokee in a 35-to-26 loss to East Gaston. Cherokee is well coached by David Napert and supported with assistants Tim Hawkins (Former Head Coach at Smoky Mountain High), Matthew Maney and Langston Wood (who were outstanding players at Smoky Mountain and Cherokee respectively). Craig Barker, and outstanding coach, rounds out the Braves leadership.
Goal: Win the Smoky Mountain Conference
There are no pushovers this year in the Smoky Mountain Conference. Each team seems to be lead with a good quarterback, strong line, and playbooks that wins games. Beginning with the Cherokee game, every game is for the title. “Everything counts this time of year. Conference games are going to be super important for play off seeding. This conference is as strong as it has ever been in a long time,” stated Coach Watson. COVID-19 still haunts some of the teams. This weekend, Robbinsville and Swain County were going to play under the Big Oaks. Health protocols forced the Maroon Devils to hold off playing the Black Knights. Missing a game or two in the conference portion of the season will definitely make each game uber important.
Cherokee versus Murphy
The game will kick off at 7:30 PM Friday night (October 1, 2021). Stay connected to Team FYN Sports for updates on the game and post-game comment.