South Pittsburg rallies to win program’s seventh Class 1A state title

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / South Pittsburg's Logan Sisk lifts Cavin Gilley after Gilley intercepted a McKenzie pass during the TSSAA Class 1A BlueCross Bowl state championship game Friday at Finley Stadium.
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / South Pittsburg's Logan Sisk lifts Cavin Gilley after Gilley intercepted a McKenzie pass during the TSSAA Class 1A BlueCross Bowl state championship game Friday at Finley Stadium.

The famous tourist slogan for Rock City invites guests to see seven states from Lookout Mountain.

Thanks to a gutsy fourth-quarter rally, visitors to South Pittsburg High School will now be able to see seven state championship gold balls in the trophy case.

The top-ranked Pirates finished off a 15-0 football season by overcoming three lost fumbles — on their first three possessions of the third quarter — and rallying from behind for the first time all season, scoring two touchdowns in the final 11 minutes to beat McKenzie 14-7 in the TSSAA Class 1A BlueCross Bowl on Friday at Finley Stadium.

“It goes back to determination and our kids refusing to lose,” said Wes Stone, who in his three seasons as head coach has helped guide the program to a pair of state titles. “From about midway through the third quarter on, it came down to who wants it more.

“After those three fumbles, and when we got behind, that was a reality check. From there on it became a street fight, a brawl for a quarter and a half, and our kids just kept fighting.”

South Pittsburg senior Jamarion Farrior had two of the fumbles — including one inside his team’s 25-yard line that set up McKenzie’s touchdown midway through the third quarter — but he responded by rushing for 160 yards on 29 carries, including both touchdowns for the Pirates. He also had seven tackles on defense and was named BlueCross Bowl MVP for the resilient performance.

“After I had those fumbles, I was determined to just keep fighting,” Farrior said. “Everything isn’t always going to go your way, but just keep punching, and that’s what I did. The way I looked at it, I was just going to keep coming all game until the end.”

South Pittsburg starting quarterback Kamden Wellington, an all-state selection a year ago, sustained a high-ankle sprain early in last week's semifinal at Oliver Springs that forced him to leave that game and limited him in the first three quarters against McKenzie (13-2). After aggravating the injury on the opening play of the fourth quarter, he was forced to exit again, having rushed for 33 yards on eight carries. He was also 5-for-12 passing for 62 yards before hurting his thumb on his throwing hand in the second half.

The combination of injuries greatly limited the two-time Tennessee Titans Mr. Football semifinalist, who is South Pittsburg's all-time passing leader with more than 4,000 career yards. He couldn't grip the ball or run like usual.

“When Kamden went down, I knew we had gotten as much out of him as we could,” Stone said. “If it wasn’t the state championship game, he would’ve never played tonight.”

As the program’s 100-year anniversary season came to a close, without their offensive leader, the Pirates turned back the clock with a throwback, simplistic offense, rushing 48 times for 208 yards, with 156 of that total coming on 33 second-half carries.

Farrior, who was also a Mr. Football semifinalist this season, had to take over at quarterback once Wellington was unable to continue. The 6-foot, 200-pounder responded by carrying the ball on his team’s final 11 snaps for 62 yards and the two scores.

Other than one punt during that span, no other South Pittsburg player either took a snap or carried the ball for the final 11 minutes as the Pirates — who attempted only three passes in the second half — maintained possession for 18:48 of the 24 minutes in the second half.

“It means a lot to win it the way we did because our ‘Hammer’ package is basically just the single wing, and through the years that’s what we were known for,” said Stone, referring to the old-school offense that was the foundation for South Pittsburg’s success.

The Pirates were the last team in the state to continue running the single wing until the early 1990s.

“Jamarion is a bull running the ball. We just continued to run power over and over and over,” Stone said. “When you’ve got a senior like Jamarion, with tears in his eyes, telling you, ‘Coach, keep giving me the ball. I’ve got 3 more yards in me. I can go a few more,’ you feed him the ball.”

The game was a rematch of the 2021 final won by South Pittsburg, and the Rebels were trying to win a second straight state title, having beaten Clay County for the 2022 championship. Instead, the Pirates added to a haul that also includes championships in 1969, 1994, 1999, 2007 and 2010, improving to 7-7 all-time in state finals.

While it took three quarters before the offense found its footing, the stingy South Pittsburg defense showed up from the opening minutes and was the reason the team was still in the game to make the late rally.

McKenzie, which had averaged 37 points per game this season heading into the finale, was held to four first downs and averaged 2.5 yards per play in finishing with just 90 total yards, with 38 of that in the second half. The Rebels failed to convert on all nine of their third-down attempts and were 0-of-2 on fourth down.

“Kamden was crying and saying he didn’t want to come out, but I told him he gave us everything he had and the defense would take care of him,” said Pirates defensive coordinator Stephen Britton, whose unit allowed an average of just five points per game this season despite a schedule with six ranked opponents — including Middle Tennessee Christian, which won the Division II-AA state title Thursday at Finley.

“He was a huge reason we got here," Britton said of Wellington, "so without him, our defensive guys knew they had to step up. They did, and we put what we do on full display. To end it the way that we did, with our defense sealing the ‘W’ really special.”

After scoring the game's first points, McKenzie’s next three possessions ended in a three-and-out, a fake punt on fourth-and-2 that the Pirates stuffed for no gain and an interception by Cavin Gilley on fourth down at the Rebels’ 11 with just more than a minute remaining.

“I knew they were trying to get to the sticks, so I knew I had to get there,” said Gilley, a senior whose dad is also a defensive assistant. “I picked it off. Right then and there, I ended the game and we won the state championship.”

Contact Stephen Hargis at

  photo  Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / South Pittsburg's Jamarion Farrior runs the ball during the TSSAA Class 1A BlueCross Bowl against McKenzie on Friday at Finley Stadium.


Listed in alphabetical order

Baylor: 1973 in AAA, 2022 in DII-AAA

Boyd-Buchanan: 2003 in 1A

Bradley Central: 1976 in AAA

Calhoun (Ga.): 1952 in C; 2011 in AA; 2014, 2017 in AAA

Cleveland: 1993, 1994, 1995 in 4A

Dalton (Ga.): 1967 in AA

Marion County: 1990, 1992 in AA; 1994, 1995 in 3A

McCallie: 2001, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2023 in DII-AAA

North Jackson (Ala.): 1993 in 4A

Red Bank: 2000 in 5A

Rossville (Ga.): 1954, 1955, 1962 in AA

Signal Mountain: 2010 in 2A

South Pittsburg: 1969, 1994, 1999, 2007, 2010, 2021, 2023 in 1A

Sweetwater: 1971, 1972 in 1A; 1993 in 2A

Trion (Ga.): 1957, 1974 in B

Tyner: 1997, 2022 in 2A

Whitwell: 2018 in 1A

* Central: 1946, 1951, 1953, 1957, 1965

* Central won all its state titles before the TSSAA playoff system. The Purple Pounders’ championships were awarded by statewide polls.


Listed in alphabetical order

Baylor: 2023, 2011, 2010, 1977, 1972

Boyd-Buchanan: 2023, 2009, 2004, 2002

Calhoun: 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2005

Cleveland: 1982, 1970

Dalton: 2001, 1978, 1977, 1966, 1964

Marion County: 1982, 1984, 2014, 2015, 2016

McCallie: 2006

McMinn Central: 1993

Meigs County: 2020, 2019, 1995, 1980

Notre Dame: 2017

Red Bank: 1978

Rhea County: 1985, 1981

Ridgeland: 2012

Sequatchie County: 1973

South Pittsburg: 2020, 2013, 2011, 2009, 1986, 1985, 1974

Sweetwater: 1970

Tyner: 1996, 2017

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