COALFIELD, Tenn. -- Facing an outmanned but stubborn opponent in a hostile environment, South Pittsburg opted to return to basics Friday night.
With their top two receivers out with injury, the Pirates relied on a heavy dose of their 1-2 punch at running back to whip sixth-ranked Coalfield 36-6 in a Class 1A state quarterfinal game Friday.
Sophomore Jajuan Lankford showed why he is a Mr. Football finalist, rushing for 181 yards on just 10 carries and scoring three touchdowns, while junior Demetric Johnson added 102 yards on 14 carries and scored a pair of two-point conversions.
"It was no secret we're still not at full strength in our passing game, but it's awfully nice to have those two guys to turn around and hand it to," said coach Vic Grider, whose Pirates rushed for nearly 200 yards in the first half and finished with 341 on the ground.
Third-ranked South Pittsburg will travel to ninth-ranked Gordonsville next Friday for a semifinal game. The Pirates have eliminated the Tigers three of the last four years.
Coalfield had scored at least 33 points in every game this season before Friday, averaging 49 in its last 10 and had allowed more than one TD just three times. South Pittsburg has now beaten the Yellow Jackets all five times they have played, including each of the last two seasons.
On the second play of the Pirates' second possession, Lankford broke loose up the middle for a 59-yard scoring run. Lankford added a 25-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter, and a 21-yard TD pass from Jake Stone to Michael Allen on the final snap of the first gave the visitors a three-score advantage. That spirit-breaking score was set up by a 41-yard run by Johnson.
The Yellow Jackets drove into Pirates' territory twice in the first half before being held. They managed just two runs of more than 7 yards in being held to 70 rushing yards, and quarterback Cody Hill was harassed throughout the second half, finishing 17-of-37 for 174 yards and two interceptions.
South Pittsburg drove into Coalfield territory on its first two second-half possession but failed to score. Lankford then put the game away when he turned the corner and raced down the home sideline for a 56-yard touchdown. He has just under 2,000 yards for the season, and Johnson surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in the win.
"It takes a lot of pressure off both of us knowing that the defense can't key on either of us," Johnson said. "The line blocked great, and it's always good to come into somebody else's place and win like this."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...