SHANE SHOEMAKER – Writer
For the third time in four years, the South Pittsburg Pirates football team will be playing in the TSSAA 1A BlueCross Bowl for the state championship. They punched their ticket to the big game after beating the Oliver Springs Bobcats last Friday night, 31-6.
The Pirates had just six passing attempts all night, with only one received going to an Oliver Springs defender off a Kamden Wellington interception. However, Wellington, who only made two carries for 17 yards, went down with a sprained ankle on the opening drive and was unable to return. The Pirates then quickly reverted back to what has made many of the South Pittsburg teams of the past so dominating: running the football. Wellington’s loss no doubt made South Pittsburg one-dimensional, as they scored their fourth-lowest total of the season. Using eight different runners, they rushed 42 times for 338 yards. Including the previous week’s quarterfinals game against Gordonsville, the Pirates have a total of 77 carries for 688 rushing yards in the last two games.
After scoring 21 points in the first quarter alone against Gordonsville in the previous game, the Pirates didn’t score their first touchdown until just under six minutes left in the first quarter against Oliver Springs. JaMycal Bucker scored first off a 31-yard run to put the Pirates on the board. He’d be the second-leading rusher of the night, carrying the ball 12 times for 86 yards.
South Pittsburg would take a 17-0 lead into the half, thanks to an Alex Phillips 26-yard field goal – his first of the season – at the 10:10 mark in the second quarter. Shortly after, the Pirates’ defense – which would hold the Bobcats to 192 total yards of offense and cause three turnovers – would come up big as AJ Wallace would make a scoop and score on a 25-yard fumble return. Sophomore Kadyn Pace would have a pair of interceptions.
The best the Bobcats could do from there was score six points the whole night, which came late in the third quarter on a 74-yard pass play, followed by a missed extra point. Oliver Springs was able to take advantage of Jamarion Farrior’s lone mistake of the evening when he fumbled deep in the Bobcats’ territory. However, Farrior proved why he is considered one of the most valuable players for this year’s Pirates team when he had to fill in for the injured Wellington at quarterback. The senior, who has mostly been known for his defensive skills, and at running back on offense, would essentially put the game away in the third quarter on the Pirates’ ensuing drive, scoring on a 36-yard run to make it 24-6. Farrior would end the night with 17 carries for 135 yards and one more score.
Friday night’s semifinal matchup was the second time the Pirates (14-0) met the Bobcats (10-4) this season, with their first meeting back in the opener of the regular season on Aug. 18, resulting in a 56-0 South Pittsburg victory at Beene Stadium. The Pirates’ quest for a seventh state title now has one final game remaining, which will be in Chattanooga at Finley Stadium this Friday at 2 p.m. CST against the McKenzie Rebels (13-1), who won last year’s 1A championship.
The Pirates’ return to the state finals makes it their 14th trip to the title game in school history, with their last appearance back in 2021, which they won by beating McKenzie 24-21.
*The BlueCross Bowl will be held at Finley Stadium 1826 Carter Street, Chattanooga. Per the TSSAA website, parking is $15 per day, cash only. The Pirates will play at 2 p.m. CST against the McKenzie Rebels. Tickets may be purchased online at gofan.co/event/1052092. Tickets are $12 through Wednesday, Nov. 29th. All presale tickets will be credited to the high school. Tickets at the gate on the day of the game are $20. By purchasing online your phone is your ticket, no paper ticket is required. Please see the Finley Stadium website for a complete list of stadium safety policies and practices.*
-Photo credit: Tracy Cagle, Mary Moore, and anonymous creditor