GORDONSVILLE, Tenn. — After driving 99 1/2 yards to get to the brink of the upset, South Pittsburg came up about a foot shy of completing it, falling 14-13 to top-ranked Gordonsville in a Class 1A second-round football playoff Friday.
The Pirates drove the length of the field after Demetric Johnson intercepted a pass at the goal line with eight minutes remaining. Johnson carried the ball eight times in the 15-play scoring drive, including a 4-yard gain on fourth-and-2 and a 3-yard touchdown run with 1:25 remaining to pull South Pittsburg within one point.
The Pirates opted to go for two points and again tossed the ball to Johnson, who was stopped inside the 1. His forward progress was ruled to be stopped, although he never went down and spun off the tackle to step into the end zone. Johnson flipped the ball to the referee, thinking he had scored.
"He never stopped; he wasn't down," South PIttsburg quarterback Jake Stone protested.
South Pittsburg was fortunate to still have a chance in the end, after two first-half fumbles inside its own territory set up the Tigers for short scoring drives and a 14-7 halftime lead. Johnson also accounted for the Pirates' first score, a 28-yard run on third-and-8, and the senior Mr. Football finalist finished the night with 117 yards on 17 carries.
After having one drive stopped on downs at the Pirates' 12 in the first half, Gordonsville lost a fumble to end a third-quarter possession at the South Pittsburg 15 and was stopped again when Johnson made his interception at the goal line.
South Pittsburg also had a touchdown pass called by by penalty late in the third quarter.
"That's part of being a young team," South Pittsburg coach Vic Grider said. "We made too many mistakes, with the turnovers in the first half and the penalty that cost us another score there. But we stood toe-to-toe with a veteran team.
"I've had a lot of teams accomplish some really big things, but I don't know that I've ever been more proud of a group of kids than this one. They came in here and played their hearts out and gave us a chance at the end."
Aside from the fourth-down conversion by Johnson on the Pirates' final drive, they also converted a third-and-5 on a 15-yard run by Stone and overcame a second-and-15 on a 16-yard run by Stone to set up Johnson's second TD.
"I had thought about it all week if the game came down to a late call like that and I knew I wanted to put the ball in the hands of our best player [Johnson] and try to win it right there," Grider said of the decision to go for two rather than send out a freshman kicker for the extra-point attempt. "It was no secret who was going to get the ball, and he did about all he could to get in.
"If I had it to do over, I'd do the same thing 99 times out of 100."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has 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. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...