High School Sports

September 26, 2008

Bennie and the Moose

Bennie McMurray wasn't expecting the call from Jimmy "Moose" Wallace in 1983, but when it came, McMurray saw a good career opportunity.

Wallace called to offer McMurray a teaching job at Lewisville, where he would also be an assistant football coach and head coach of the Lions baseball team.

"J.R. Boyd left and coach Wallace needed a baseball coach," McMurray said. "He knew I was a pretty good coach because I was at Buford and our teams played his in baseball."

"I had been at Buford for eight years and I looked at going to Lewisville as an opportunity to try something different. Four years later, I was head football coach, baseball coach and athletics director. Sometimes life is about being at the right place at the right time."

Tonight at 7:30, McMurray and Wallace meet for the second time when Lancaster hosts Northwestern in a non-region game. Both are 4-0, familiar territory for Northwestern but a place Lancaster hasn't been since jumping out of the starting block 4-0 in 1981.

In their first head-to-head meeting last year in Rock Hill, Northwestern won 34-14.

"You've got two 4-0 teams playing. No doubt they are a very good football teams," Wallace said. "To quote Coach Mac (McMurray), they have a stable of good running backs. They have huge lineman. They are scoring points and not giving up many."

Wallace said hiring McMurray was one of the best moves he's ever made. McMurray's baseball teams won five Class A state championships. When Wallace left for Northwestern after leading the Lions to the Class A football state championship in 1986, his recommendation was to not waste time looking for a new coach. In McMurray, he told the school administration, Lewisville already had the right man.

McMurray left Lewisville after compiling a 145-46 record and winning three state football titles. He retired from the South Carolina education system and spent five seasons building a football team from scratch at Charlotte's E.E. Waddell.

Wallace also had a brief sabbatical. He stepped down as the Trojans coach in 2005 to become the school's full-time AD. He returned last season. He has led the Trojans to four state championship games, winning two. Northwestern's first title came against Lancaster in 1989.

Between them, they have won 437 games.

McMurray got a third life-changing call three years ago, this one from Lancaster High School asking if he'd be interested in replacing long-time coach Johnny Roscoe. It was an offer too good to refuse.

The job gave McMurray the opportunity to coach in his home town, where he has lived nearly all his life.

Wallace said playing against McMurray and the Bruins brings back a lot of good feelings from when they were at Lewisville. The bad part about it, Wallace said, is that it was a long time ago and that means they are getting old.

But neither has lost their competitive edge, and both are masters at getting their teams ready to play.

When McMurray came to Lancaster, the Bruins were 24-34 from 2000-2005. Fourteen of those wins were in 2000 and 2001, when Lancaster went 8-4 and 6-5. The Bruins haven't had a winning season since. They were 3-8 McMurray's first season and 4-7 last year. Lancaster started turning the corner near the end of last season and it's carried over.

"Being 4-0 is all about the attitude you take and how you feel about yourself," McMurray said. "We are not satisfied by any means. To be 4-0 at this point in the season, we'll take it. It all goes back to the kids or our assistant coaches.

"This game is about Northwestern and Lancaster. Coach Mac and Moose, we're not a factor in the game and it's not about us. It's one of those things that's not a big issue, and we'll decide it on the field."

The game offers contrasting offensive styles, but similarities on defense.

Northwestern runs the "Air Raid" offense and passes on nearly every play. Led by quarterback Justin Worley, the Trojans have passed for 1,389 yards and scored 142 points. Worley has maybe the best group of receivers in the state in Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarrett Neely, Labris Adams and Julian Patton.

Lancaster favors the run and has 1,173 yards rushing, just 148 passing and 127 points. Quarterback Matt Reese is like having another tailback in the backfield with his running ability. But he has two good running backs in Zed Truesdale and Jamias Clark.

Both teams go all-out on defense, with good speed and size. Lancaster has allowed only 31 points, Northwestern 43. The Bruins will be challenged to stop the Trojans' powerful passing game, something few teams have been able to do the last two seasons.

"We have a scheme in place," McMurray said. "We hope to limit their opportunities on the offense. Worley is an outstanding quarterback. Patterson, Neely, Adams, Patton. They have so many weapons, its ungodly.

"We can't have many three-and-outs on offense. We have to control the ball. And we can't turn the ball over like we did last week against York. I think it will be a good game."

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