SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — Anyone who thought the high school football game Friday at South Pittsburg would be a battle between the Pirates' speed and Polk County's physical prowess underestimated South Pittsburg's physical characteristics.
Trailing by two, the Pirates took over the ball on their 20 with 4:21 to play. And 12 running plays later -- the last a 1-yard run from Kahlil Mitchell with 29 seconds remaining -- they were in the end zone with a 30-24 victory.
"We knew Polk County was going to be a big, physical team," Tim Moore, coach of Class 1A's top-ranked Pirates, said of the sixth-ranked Class 3A Wildcats. "We matched up with them at times. They pushed us around a little bit, but we found ways to stay in the game. Our kids showed a lot of heart and fight at the end and won that thing."
Wildcats bruiser Zach Miller ended with 153 yards, but 41 of those came on one carry with a little more than nine minutes to play. Other than that, he averaged about 5 yards on his 23 carries.
"We knew he was going to get some yards," Moore said. "He's hard to gang-tackle. At times we did. He's so big it takes four or five guys to tackle him. You tell the kids they're going to have to get around the football. We did a pretty good job on him, but he wears on you over the course of the game. He's not the only one. They have a lot of threats to keep up with."
Although he was bottled up most of the first half, Jujuan Lankford ended up countering with 136 yards on 16 rushes for the Pirates. He had a 55-yard scoring run on the second play of the second half that got them within 18-16, but Chris Wimberley returned the ensuing kickoff 82 yards for a Polk touchdown.
Mitchell's 5-yard touchdown run at 6:20 of the third quarter was the last score until the late TD drive, which included a 15-yard late-hit-out-of-bounds penalty on Polk (7-2).
"I've got to find a way to get my guys to understand you don't want to help the No. 1-ranked team out," Polk County coach Derrick Davis said. "You can't have things like penalties, personal fouls, getting the play incorrectly, which we did three or four times. It's a disappointing loss."
The Pirates had two blocked kicks within a span of a minute and a half in the first quarter.
Payne Mosley blocked a punt that teammate Chase Blevins returned 27 yards for a touchdown at the 6:20 mark. Then after Polk's Devin Weber returned the ensuing kickoff 57 yards to the Pirates' 39, quarterback Josh Silas hit Cory Swallows for a touchdown on third down and Mitchell blocked the extra point.
"We've talked about punt blocking and PAT blocking in practice all year," Davis said. "You warn them about those things. They can come back and bite you, and they did tonight."
The Wildcats drove 75 yards and went ahead on Silas's 15-yard run on a third-and-1 sneak on the first play of the second quarter. A botched punt snap by South Pittsburg (8-1) set up a short scoring drive that made it 18-7 before the Pirates' Chase Frame made a 25-yard field goal on the last play of the first half.
At a halftime ceremony, South Pittsburg named the field at Beene Stadium Vic Grider Field in honor of the successful coach who resigned after last season.
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or email@example.com.