SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. - Corbin Fitzgerald had waited his turn all season.
Friday night, the junior got his chance and made the most of it, leading top-ranked South Pittsburg to a runaway 49-0 Class 1A quarterfinal victory over Fayetteville.
Fitzgerald was projected to be the Pirates' quarterback before Kitt Grider transferred in from North Jackson. That moved Fitzgerald to running back, where he had been the third option to carry the ball.
But Friday night, with six starters suspended for the first quarter including Mr. Football finalist Jajuan Lankford and fellow 1,000-yard rusher Kahlil Mitchell, Fitzgerald was asked to step up. He responded with 77 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter and finished the night with 142 yards, three scores and two interceptions on defense.
"To be honest, it felt great to get that many carries," Fitzgerald said after the first 100-plus-yard game of his career. "I knew I had big shoes to fill because Jajuan is the best running back in 1A. My team needed me to step up tonight, and I feel like I did my job."
Lankford, Mitchell and four other starters sat out the opening quarter for what coaches termed a "violation of team rules." With the Pirates taking control early and Lankford nursing a slight injury, he ran only four times. Mitchell added 132 yards and two touchdowns as the Pirates (11-1) averaged more than 9 yards a carry in rolling up 404 rushing yards.
The Pirates defense was just as impressive, limiting a Fayetteville team that had averaged four touchdowns per game to 103 total yards. The Tigers had seven plays that averaged 44 yards in last week's second-round win but averaged less than 3 yards per play against the Pirates.
"I thought our defense rose to the occasion against a real athletic team with a lot of big-play potential," said Pirates coach Tim Moore,who also serves as the team's defensive coordinator.
The Pirates have shut out nine opponents in the second half this season.
"We've always had faith in Corbin, and it was also good to see him really show what he can do for us when he got his chance," Moore added.
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.