South Charleston quarterback Trae Murphy was having trouble making connections on his team’s big-play passing game. So he did the next-best thing.
He used his legs for the game-winning touchdown.
Murphy broke off a 74-yard run with 4:13 remaining in the game Thursday night and the Black Eagles made it stand with a late defensive stop, earning a coveted 13-12 season-opening victory against neighboring rival George Washington in front of a large crowd at SC High School.
South Charleston wrapped up the victory with 39 seconds left when D.Q. Watkins intercepted a Grant Wells pass at his own 15-yard line.
Murphy, who threw for 1,876 yards last season, went 4 of 24 passing for 116 yards on Thursday, just missing on potential big gains with his corps of speedy receivers, with some deep passes inches away from being caught.
However, that didn’t keep the Black Eagles from erasing a near game-long deficit when they really needed it in the closing stages.
On second-and-10 from his own 26, Murphy rolled right, got some nice blocking and tip-toed his way down the sideline for the winning score.
“The line got that block,’’ Murphy said, “and at the end my receiver, Samahji Simon, he got that great block. He got in two peoples’ way, and that gave me the opening to score. I kicked it into last gear and went. I just saw the edge and I was gone up the field, gone.’’
The Patriots, who dropped their third straight season-opening game to SC, had one last chance after Murphy’s long TD run, advancing from their own 20 to the SC 30 with under a minute to play. The best opportunity came on first down when Wells threw to a wide-open JaQuan Hall perched in the end zone, but Hall couldn’t make the catch. On the next play, Watkins picked off a pass and the game was effectively over.
George Washington dominated the time of possession and led much of the way, but couldn’t get the one stop it needed to wrap it up. That didn’t escape the watchful eye of Black Eagles coach Donnie Mays.
“We made one big play -- that’s all we did,’’ Mays said. “I put a lot on our quarterback to make decisions, and Trae checked into that, and it was a smart decision. It was good, and that’s what I need him to do more of. Do things that are working and go with it. That was a good play for him.’’
Mays realizes his team’s passing game has got to produce more than it did on Thursday. Murphy found Simon for an 81-yard pickup late in the first quarter, but the drive later fizzled, resulting in a missed field goal.
“When guys get in your face, it makes it harder to throw,’’ Mays said, “and I felt our guys on the offensive line got penetrated and weren’t physical and it was a long night for us. I told the kids if we were satisfied with a win like this, the way we did it, you shouldn’t be. You’re at the wrong place. Because we need to get better fast. We’ve got to work on us.’’
Murphy’s play decided what turned into a battle of quarterbacks between himself and Wells, as each signal-caller also led his team in rushing as well as passing.
Wells hit on 14 of 27 passes for 197 yards with three interceptions (all in the second half) and carried 21 times for 106 yards, including a 21-yard scoring run in the second quarter. He had four first-down runs. Murphy finished with 16 carries for 141 yards.
George Washington led 12-7 at halftime on Wells’ TD run and 1-yard scoring burst by Jonathan McClung. SC’s lone score before the break came on a 24-yard run by Zion Freshour.
The Patriots also got to the SC 8-yard line in the third quarter before running out of downs, with the big gainer a 19-yard run by Wells on the read option.
“They made more plays than we did,’’ said GW coach Steve Edwards Jr. “We didn’t execute when we had to, and it’s tough. They made one more play than we did. We had some opportunities, some dropped balls. We had our chances, but didn’t do it. We’ve got to rebound, regroup and come back next week and get better.’’
Isaiah Mason caught four balls for 83 yards for GW, all in the first half.
Watkins had two of SC’s three interceptions. The other was by Zhantei Calloway.