The star: South Pittsburg's Jajuan Lankford ran 18 times for 189 yards and three scores.
Up next: South Pittsburg hosts Fayetteville in the Class 1A quarterfinals.
SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. - Midway through the fourth quarter, top-ranked South Pittsburg found itself in a position it didn't expect. Holding a 12-point lead but shut out in the second half, the Pirates needed a defensive stop to prevent upset-minded Moore County from inching closer.
Senior linebacker Kahlil Mitchell stripped the ball out of Matt Taggett's arms and Payne Mosley pounced on it at the Blue Raiders' 40. Seven plays later, on fourth-and-goal, South Pittsburg quarterback Kitt Grider turned the corner and dove into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown that put the game away.
But the 40-21 win for the Pirates in a Class 1A second-round playoff was a mixture of the good and bad and certainly left plenty to correct if they are to survive another week.
Senior running back Jajuan Lankford ran 18 times for 189 yards and three touchdowns. However, the Pirates wound up with more penalty yards than their Mr. Football finalist gained, rolling up 210 yards on 21 flags.
The game took three hours as the two teams combined for 326 yards on 30 penalties.
"We struggled in the second half and just couldn't seem to do much right," Pirates coach Tim Moore said. "I'm not sure if it was the week off, but we lost some focus and we sure can't do that and get where we want to be."
The Pirates will host Fayetteville (6-6) in next week's quarterfinals, the sixth time in the last seven seasons they have reached at least the third round.
The Pirates scored on each of their five first-half possessions, needing just four plays opening the game before Mitchell, who finished with 99 rushing yards, scored on a 15-yard run. They followed that with a three-play strike, capped by Lankford's 49-yard touchdown run.
"We knew we had to jump on them early because they're not the type team that would quit, so we wanted to build a big lead," Lankford said. "They stacked the box in the second half and made it pretty frustrating for us on offense. There's some things we have to be better at from here on."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.