Simpler was simply better for South Pittsburg.
With receiver Antonio Chubb and running back Demetric Johnson back from injury, Pirates coach Vic Grider admitted he tried too hard to get the two big-play threats into the flow of the game in the first half Friday night.
So after being shut out in the first half for the first time all season, and trailing Class 2A’s top-ranked Boyd-Buchanan by 10 points, the Pirates went back to giving the ball to sophomore Jajuan Lankford and Johnson. That decision resulted in a 26-10 nondistrict victory for Class 1A’s third-ranked team.
“It felt great to be back out there helping my team, but the first half was frustrating,” said Johnson, who ran for all 92 of his yards in the second half and scored two touchdowns. “We just didn’t like the effort we played with in the first half and came out ready to change things.”
The Buccaneers (8-1) scored all of their points in an impressive first quarter, punctuated late by John Hale’s 15-yard touchdown run.
But while they drove inside South Pittsburg territory on their next three drives before the halftime, the Bucs came away without points.
The Pirates (7-1) set the tone for a dominating second-half defensive performance on the opening series of the third quarter, pushing the Bucs backward on three plays. After accumulating 199 first-half yards, Boyd-Buchanan managed just 26 total yards in the second half and turned the ball over twice. The Bucs’ only two first downs of the half came on Pirates penalties.
“That’s the second straight week we’ve had a great defensive effort,” Grider said. “We’re starting to come around and become as good as we thought we could be on that side of the ball now that we’re getting some guys healthy.
“I just got too cute in the first half calling plays to get those guys going. We’re a run-oriented football team, and that’s what we went back to in the second half.”
Lankford scored the Pirates’ first TD of the game on a 29-yard run midway through the third. After the Pirates forced a fumble two plays later, Johnson broke free for a 36-yard score on South Pittsburg’s next play to give the Pirates the lead for good.
After gaining just 80 total yards in the first half, the Pirates rushed for 104 in the third quarter and gained 206 of their 248 yards on the ground in the second half.
Lankford, who came into the game as the area’s leading rusher and scorer, finished with 124 yards on 14 carries, with the one TD.
“Having Little Man [Johnson] and Lankford both back there to hand it to makes us awfully tough to defend,” Grider said. “Jajuan is just a real special back with the ability to make people miss and pretty good power for a sophomore.”
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 ...