SHANE SHOEMAKER – Sports Writer
It seemed fitting that South Pittsburg would bring out their seldom-used Orange Crush uniforms on Thursday night against Whitwell. Whether it was meant to be something of ceremonial dressing for what the evening presented or a Halloween festive fare, it was appropriate for both occasions, as the mostly orange-clad Pirates team crushed the Tigers, 42-7, to capture their fifth straight region title.
Of course, crushing their opponents is something that the Pirates have done all season; the color of the uniform has never mattered. But perhaps it is extra motivation moving forward.
“Well, we don’t wear those jerseys a lot,” Coach Wes Stone said. “That’s the first time we’ve worn the orange at home. Our people like the black jerseys at home. The all black, that’s what we’re known for, so that’s an alternate jersey for us; it’s not an every-week jersey.”
In his postgame speech on the field, Stone told his team that if they wanted to wear these special occasion uniforms again, they could probably figure out when they would get that opportunity. “So my message was pretty clear to them,” Stone said. “We wear them at home one time a year; you can’t wear them on the road, so going forward, they know what that means. If they want to put them on again, they know where they have to be at the end.”
That destination, should the Pirates find their way there, will be the BlueCross Bowl 1A state finals at Chattanooga’s Finley Stadium on Dec. 1.
“The whole year we have been begging Coach Stone to wear the orange ones,” quarterback Kamden Wellington said. “Just getting to wear those, it gave us this swag, the best swag we’ve had all year.”
Wellington connected with receiver AJ Wallace on a 67-yard touchdown pass to take an early lead last Friday night after only a couple of plays on the Pirates’ first possession. Wallace was a huge part of the Pirates’ offense in the first half, during which 35 of their 42 points were scored. He caught four passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns and one two-point conversion.
On South Pittsburg’s first play on their second drive in the second quarter, Wellington once again found Wallace but for the final time, hitting him on a 51-yard reception that put the Pirates at the Tigers’ 5-yard line. The Pirates would score just two plays later on a Wellington 5-yard run to make it 35-7. Wallace would not return after being held out with a shoulder injury.
Wellington, who went 11-for-16 for 218 yards and two touchdowns, also led the team in rushing yards with 85 and two more scores. It took only one play on the Pirates’ third possession of the third quarter for him to throw the ball up for RaCash Kelly to snag a 32-yard reception over a Whitwell defensive back to score the final touchdown of the game. Whitwell’s lone score came a little over midway through the first quarter, putting the Tigers within six when Brandon Easterly found Wyatt Davis downfield for a 54-yard touchdown pass to make it 13-7.
The Tigers, who had only scored 15 points in two out of their last three games, both resulting in losses, once again could get nothing going on the night. Their only other promising drive started late in the first quarter and briefly bled over into the second. However, it ended abruptly while in Pirates territory after Whitwell quarterback Bennett McDougal coughed up the ball, which led to South Pittsburg’s RaCash Kelly returning it to the Tigers’ 37-yard line, which later led to a Wallace touchdown reception, making it 28-7.
“Oh, it’s a great feeling,” Stone said of going undefeated during the regular season. “Like I told them, there’s been a lot of great football teams that have come through this school, and only six or seven of them have been able to go 10-0 in the regular season. So, there’s no sense in dodging that. You always want to go 10-0 because you don’t get those all the time. It’s a big, big deal for them to go 10-0. That’s just the first checklist.”
Both the Pirates and Tigers will be hosting first-round matchups this Friday. South Pittsburg will welcome the Jo Byrns Red Devils (1-9, 0-3), while Whitwell will face the Red Boiling Springs Bulldogs (5-5, 1-2).
~photos courtesy of Cindy Desrosier, Kristie Eggert, and Tracy Cagle