Shane Shoemaker – Sport Writer
The Pirate cannons didn’t fire off nearly as much as they usually have this season on Friday night, to signify every time the South Pittsburg Pirates scored a touchdown. But they certainly fired the right amount of shots to defeat the Middle Tennessee Christian School Cougars to keep the Pirates unbeaten.
With the calendar about to turn and spooky season just around the corner, a full moon hovered over Beene Stadium and a Pirates team decked out in nightmarish black jerseys with orange trim defeated the Cougars, 18-6.
Both teams came into Friday nights showdown undefeated and ranked number one in their respective classes. The Pirates have been ranked atop Class 1A since the second week of the season, while the Cougars had just taken the top spot in Division II-A coming into Friday night’s game after defeating previous No. 1 Friendship Christian the previous week.
The Cougars brought a wealth of experience of nine seniors on both sides of the ball into Beene Stadium, including offensive lineman and University of Tennessee commit Jesse Perry. Behind him was a rushing attack that was averaging 11.4 yards a carry, 336 yards a game that had scored 30 touchdowns on the ground this season.
Friday night, the Pirates held the Cougars to 2.8 yards per carry for 117 yards and six points that came on a much earned 1-yard run by the Cougars’ quarterback late in the fourth quarter.
Much of the game was a defensive battle, beginning in the first quarter that resulted in no score with the ball mostly hovering around the midfield mark, as both teams had multiple drives resulting in either a four-and-out or turning the ball over on downs – a common theme for the night.
It wasn’t until less than two minutes into the second quarter that the Pirates got their first first down. The Pirates hit two quick pass plays, driving the ball down the field until an AJ Wallace fumble gave the ball right back to the Cougars.
On the ensuing drive, on a 3rd-and-12, the Cougars hit a pass play of 35 yards that put them deep inside Pirates’ territory. Only a few plays later, the Pirates stuffed them on a 4th-and-2 on the South Pittsburg 10-yard-line, resulting in another turnover on downs for the Cougars, keeping it scoreless at the half.
“Really, in the first half when we looked back at it, we got one drive there where we spread them out, we threw it around and got a lot of quick game going and then we fumbled, we turned it over,” Pirates’ head coach Wes Stone said. “And then a couple of other drives, we felt like we ran the ball pretty good, you know, but it was four yards, five yards, six yards – and we hadn’t popped that big one. We didn’t pop a lot of big ones tonight.”
To begin the second half, the Pirates, led by quarterback Kamden Wellington, made their way down the field fairly quickly and scored the first points of the game on a Wellington 8-yard touchdown run to make it 6-0 after a missed extra point.
“I knew we owed our defense,” Wellington said. “We stopped a hard-nosed running offense in the first-half, so I knew I had to come out there and score for our defense because they were busting their tails all night.”
In a game that was defined by defensive prowess and point scarcity, the Cougars could never really regain their footing after the Pirates first score.
Their next two possessions resulted in a fumble – their first of three – and a four-and-out after a Pirates’ punt that put them inside their own 1-yard-line.
The Pirates then took advantage when Wellington led his team to another score. This time connecting with Cavin Gilley on a 25-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the endzone to make it 12-0.
Entering the fourth, the Pirates relentless defense and special teams was just too much for the Cougars. After a Cougars muffed punt at the 9:25 mark in the third, it led to a 24-yard touchdown run by Jamarion Farrior, who was even more dominating on defense.
“I love my defense, you know. I mean, I’ve been starting since my sophomore year, but this year, I just really stepped it up just a little bit, you know, leadership wise,” Farrior said. “Our defense came out very hard.”
The Pirates as a whole were physical all night, proving their worth of a No. 1 ranking. But it’s their defense that will continue to be the talking point of their season going forward after dominating the Cougars the way they did.
“We knew this week was going to be a unique challenge because of what they do,” Stone said. “They’re going to limit your possessions. A lot of times we get 11 or 12 possessions a game. And we got seven or eight tonight. They created a few turnovers. Just a tremendous, tremendous effort by the defense in game prep and finding a way to slow them down. It’s a really tough team to slow down.”
This was a statement performance by the Pirates. And that’s exactly what Stone wanted from his team as he had methodically planned this sort of challenge to prepare them for the rest of the season.
“That’s why we scheduled them,” Stone said. “We knew their entire team was coming back this year. The reason I scheduled them at this point in the year is because I wanted a game in the second half of the season that was going to really challenge us. And I knew when we scheduled it, ‘Hey, we could lose this game. They’re a really good football team.’ So we scheduled that on purpose. But it’s extremely important for us to get that [win] … extremely proud of our kids for finding a way to get that win. But like I said, we knew what they were when we scheduled them. We scheduled them for a reason.”