SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — With a week's preparation behind his team and kickoff just moments away, South Pittsburg football coach Wes Stone got right to the point in his pregame speech.
Jotting the number "371" on the dry-erase board — a reminder of how many days had passed since Gordonsville ended the Pirates' 2022 season in the playoffs — Stone sent a motivated team to the field with one final challenge: "All I've heard from you seniors is that you wanted one more shot at this bunch. Now you've got it."
The added incentive, combined with the top-ranked Pirates' talent, produced the desired outcome for a packed home side at Beene Stadium as the hosts dominated from start to finish Friday night in a 48-7 Class 1A quarterfinal victory.
"The week of practice was unbelievable, and we had a very focused group because we all felt like we let one get away last year," Stone said. "We couldn't do much offensive in that one. We definitely couldn't run the ball on them, so all offseason we put an emphasis on our weight program and becoming very physical again.
"All of that showed up tonight."
It certainly did as South Pittsburg (13-0) averaged 10 yards per carry in rushing for 350 yards and outgained the Tigers 451-58 in total yards. That included zero negative-yardage plays on offense and a dominant defense that limited the visitors to 18 yards on 17 rushes and forced three turnovers.
The Pirates will travel to face Oliver Springs (10-3) in next week's semifinals, after the Bobcats rallied for a 20-13 win over Coalfield, avenging a regular-season loss. They will now get another shot at South Pittsburg, which won 56-0 in the season opener for both teams in August.
The Pirates took away much of the game's drama in the first quarter, racing out to a 21-0 lead. On their first possession, they covered 67 yards in eight plays, capped by Kamden Wellington hitting AJ Wallace in the back left corner of the end zone.
After stuffing the Tigers on a fourth-and-2 on the ensuing possession, the Wellington-to-Wallace connection produced a 59-yard pass to the 1, where Jamarion Farrior's touchdown put the hosts up 13-0. South Pittsburg then recovered a fumbled kickoff, and two plays later Wellington added an 11-yard touchdown run.
"Seeing them celebrate on our field after they beat us here last year, that's been the game we had circled for a whole year," said Wellington, who completed threw for 101 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for 128 yards and another score.
"This meant more to us than any game so far, but now we have to turn the page and get ready for the next one. It's hard to beat a good team twice, and even though we know what we did the first time, we will prepare for this one like it's a championship game. We won't take anybody lightly."
Sophomore running back JaMychal Buckner led South Pittsburg with 150 yards on nine carries, including a pair of 35-yard touchdown runs as the mercy rule was in effect throughout the second half after the Pirates built a 35-0 halftime lead.
Wallace, who had missed the previous two playoff games with an injury, finished with 68 receiving yards in his return.
"It was really good to have AJ back," said Stone, whose team handed Gordonsville (8-5) its only loss of the season against a 1A foe. "He brings a lot to what we do offensively.
"Being able to run the way we did opened up some big plays in our passing game, and it was really impressive to see what we were able to do up front against a very well-coached team. We've just got a real motivated bunch of guys right now."
Walker Valley 24, Clinton 20: The Mustangs (11-2) continued their impressive playoff run, rallying from an early deficit to advance to the semifinals for the first time in program history. They will travel to Knoxville West next week.
Giles County 35, Meigs County 14: The Tigers' season ended at 12-1 as Giles County earned its 10th straight win to advance to the semifinals against powerhouse Alcoa.
Contact Stephen Hargis at [email protected].