JASPER, Tenn. -- The state's oldest consecutive rivalry has now become one of the most one-sided.
Despite missing five starters -- including its leading rusher, receiver and tackler -- Class 1A's top-ranked South Pittsburg's dominance of cross-county rival Marion County continued with a 46-0 District 6-A whipping Friday night.
While 25 of the 88 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less, South Pittsburg has invoked the TSSAA's 35-point mercy rule five times in the last six meetings, outscoring the Warriors 273-40 in the span. It is the Pirates' longest win streak in the series and the first time in 35 years they have shut out Marion in consecutive seasons.
"This was about as adverse a week as I've had in coaching leading up to this game with our injuries and discipline issues," said Pirates coach Vic Grider, who suspended leading rusher Demetric "Little Man" Johnson for one game and had four other starters out with injuries. "But our whole staff preaches to the kids to prepare and be ready to play at any time, and we had some young guys step up big time."
In his first career start, sophomore Jajuan Lankford was spectacular with 257 yards, three touchdowns and a two-point conversion run, averaging nearly 14 yards per carry. Running behind a veteran offensive line, Lankford had 216 yards at halftime, including scoring runs of 76 and 71.
"Even though it was my first start, I was pretty confident because of our line," Lankford said. "I knew I had to step up because we were shorthanded, and to do this against Jasper, in my first start, that's an incredible feeling."
The Pirates (4-0, 2-0) scored on seven of their nine possessions, failing to score only when they ran the clock out at the end of the first half and to end the game. They needed five plays or less to score six times, averaging 11.9 yards per play in outgaining the Warriors 467-174 in total yards.
Lankford's first TD run provided the biggest momentum shift of the night. Leading 6-0 and facing fourth-and-2 from its 29, South Pittsburg opted not to punt, instead handing it to Lankford, who raced 71 yards for the score. He bolted 76 yards for another TD on the Pirates' next play.
"We knew we still had a good offensive line and a good young back," Grider said. "Defensively, we bent a few times, but it's pretty satisfying to shut them out two years in a row."
Jake Stone finished with 113 yards passing, all to Matthew Allen, who had two TD catches.
With only Whitwell remaining on its league schedule, South Pittsburg essentially has already wrapped up the district title, while Marion's 1-4 start is its worse in more than 40 years.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...