No. 1 SOUTH PITTSBURG PIRATES (12-1) vs. No. 2 UNION CITY GOLDEN TORNADOES (12-1)
Today, noon EST at Tennessee Tech University
Key players: Union City's veer offense starts with fullback Ricky Henry, who has 158 more carries than the next closest teammate. Henry has run for 1,914 yards and scored 30 touchdowns, while Garrett Walton has 1,021 yards and 10 TDs. Alex Reid and JaVonte Moffatt each has more than 500 rushing yards, and Moffatt is the leading receiver with 161 yards. The Golden Tornadoes have rushed for 4,479 yards and thrown for only 502. Jamison Blackwell leads the defense with 82.5 tackles, five for loss and 2.5 sacks, and Henry is the team's third-leading tackler with 69 stops, including seven for loss and six sacks.
South Pittsburg also relies heavily on its ground game, having rushed for 4,690 yards and thrown for 826. The Pirates are led by Mr. Football back of the year Jajuan Lankford, who has rushed for 1,892 yards and 28 TDs, and fullback Kahlil Mitchell, who has 1,455 yards and 19 TDs. Corbin Fitzgerald is a versatile runner and receiver with 701 total yards and is also the second-leading tackler from his safety position. Kitt Grider has thrown for 823 yards and eight TDs to add balance to the Pirates offense. Payne Mosley is an active linebacker who leads the team with 107 total tackles.
Key for South Pittsburg: The Pirates are making their fifth state-championship appearance in the last seven years, but they are facing the team that established the blueprint for how to beat them. Union City wants to use as much of the clock as possible when it has the ball, keeping it away from the Pirates' big-play offense. South Pittsburg needs to avoid turnovers and finish drives with touchdowns to prevent Union City from controlling the clock in frustrating fashion.
Key for Union City: Play keep-away much as it did in 2009. The Golden Tornadoes have thrived on a relentless running game, so converting short-yardage situations will be key to maintaining possession.
Previous meeting: Union City drove 58 yards in three minutes before kicking a 22-yard field goal in the final seconds to claim a 31-29 win in the 2009 1A state championship game.
Best playoff finish: South Pittsburg won 1A state titles in 1969, 1994, 1999, 2007 and 2010. The 2009 state title is Union City's only championship.
Key quote: "We haven't seen a team who's as consistent with the way they run the ball as Union City is. Their offensive line is real impressive with the way they come off the ball and stay on their blocks. We're physically tough enough to play with them, but we'll have to play assignment football to stop them." -- South Pittsburg coach Tim Moore
"They're running a different scheme than the first time we saw them, but the talent level is just as impressive. We'll definitely have to fly to the football and try to keep their offense off the field, because they're dangerous on every play." -- Union City coach Darren Bowling
GHSA Class AAA semifinal
RINGGOLD TIGERS (11-2) at WASHINGTON COUNTY GOLDEN HAWKS (12-0)
Key players: Ringgold quarterback Slade Dale was hobbled by a leg injury last week but did not miss any playing time and enters tonight with 3,200-plus total yards and 40 combined rushing and passing touchdowns. Running backs Kile Sholl and D.L. Goins are each averaging better than 130 yards per game in the playoffs. Defensive end Zach Morris has more than 20 tackles for loss and linebacker Dakota Baer leads the team with 160 tackles. WACO has three 1,000-yard rushers in its spread offense, paced by the 1,571 yards of running back Melvin Hill, who had 235 yards and five touchdowns in last week's rout of Blessed Trinity. Quarterback A.J. Gray and running back Danyale Hill are the other main weapons, while defensive end Logan Hunt, safety Bryan Hypolite and linebacker D.J. Sanders -- who had four interceptions last week -- are the top defenders.
Key for Ringgold: Make the Golden Hawks pass the ball. Sounds simple, yet through 12 games none of the teams on their schedule -- which includes nine playoff teams -- has been able to do that consistently. Expect a lot of stacked lines for the Tigers, meaning tackling is even more crucial.
Key for Washington County: Don't let the Tigers hang around. The longer Ringgold stays within shouting distance, the more likely the magic of Slade Dale will take over. It's WACO's plan to make sure the final quarter doesn't matter.
Previous meeting: This is the teams' first meeting.
Best playoff finish: This is Ringgold's deepest push in the playoffs, while WACO won three championships in a four-year span in the mid-1990s.
Key quote: "The big challenge is to stop the run. We can't settle for trying to knock them off their feet. They break tackle after tackle, so we have to lock up when we get our hands on them." -- Ringgold coach Robert Akins
Up next: The winner will face the winner of the Buford-Callaway game in the Georgia Dome next Friday.
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