COALFIELD, Tenn. - Fortunately for Coalfield High School's football team, South Pittsburg fumbled the ball three times in the first half, resulting in three turnovers.
Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, South Pittsburg senior running back Kahlil Mitchell broke loose even more times in the Pirates' 43-22 win Friday night in the Class 1A state semifinals. They'll play for a state title next Friday in Cookeville.
Mitchell scored on touchdown runs of 38, 48, and 42 yards in the first half and from 1 and 33 yards in the second half. He totaled 283 yards on 18 runs.
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"He had a great night," said his coach, Tim Moore. "He carried the load on offense and he did well on defense."
Also letting loose were tempers, as numerous penalties were called late in the game, and both benches emptied with just more than two minutes left. After the game, the South Pittsburg players went off the field without shaking hands, per Moore's order.
"Coach Moore said he couldn't take a chance on shaking hands," Coalfield coach Keith Henry said. "He was afraid something might happen, and I'm sorry for that.
"It was a hard-fought game," Henry added. "South Pittsburg's got a great team and great tradition."
South Pittsburg (12-1) got on the scoreboard early with Mitchell's first TD run, but Coalfield came right back with Ryan Hill passing to Zach Wilkins for a 4-yard TD to make the score 7-6.
South Pittsburg then followed with another sustained drive, but Tennessee commitment Zach Stewart recovered a fumble at the Coalfield 1-yard line.
In the second quarter, the Yellow Jackets recovered another fumble but could not capitalize again. Coalfield also lost two fumbles before halftime
Midway through the third quarter, after South Pittsburg built a 21-6 halftime lead, Mitchell scored again from the 1.
On Coalfield's subsequent possession, Hill had a 2-yard quarterback sneak and Wilkins ran for two points to cut the score to 28-14. The real drama came after those plays as Coalfield lineman Benson Napier had to be helped from the field with a leg injury and South Pittsburg defender Kyan Mitchell was ejected for two consecutive unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties.
Jujuan Lankford put the game out of reach for South Pittsburg with a 1-yard run late in the third. The Mr. Football finalist totaled 121 yards on 17 carries. Corbin Fitzgerald's two-point run made the score 36-14.
In the fourth, Brett Keener of Coalfield (8-4) scored from the 6 before Kahlil Mitchell completed the scoring for South Pittsburg.