DECATUR, Tenn. — The big uglies gave a beautiful effort, and one that was physically dominant.
Meigs County's veteran offensive line took command early, then regained control late to help lead Class 2A's second-ranked Tigers to an impressive 28-21 win over 1A's top-ranked South Pittsburg at Jewel Field on Friday night.
With their line clearing plenty of running room, the Tigers raced to a 21-0 lead in the first half, then put the game away with a late scoring drive after South Pittsburg fought back to within a score.
"We knew we had some players that would get after you, and we knew we had to win the line of scrimmage, and as the game went on that's what we did," Tigers coach Jason Fitzgerald said. "This game ain't hard. If they're not stopping it, keep running it."
Meigs County's defense set up the game's first score as Bryson Fall intercepted a pass over the middle and returned it deep in Pirates territory, which led to a Will Meadows 6-yard touchdown run. On its ensuing drive, South Pittsburg moved to the Tigers' 9 but turned the ball over on downs, and Meigs began to pull away as Meadows broke free for a 50-yard run and later capped the drive with a 1-yard dive into the end zone.
After forcing another turnover, the Tigers (7-0) extended the lead to 21-0 when Logan Carroll hit Cameron Huckabey for a 5-yard scoring toss. South Pittsburg (6-1) scored just before the half when Jayden Mount converted on fourth-and-29 by hauling in a 34-yard circus catch in which he batted the ball to himself twice before securing it as he fell to the ground.
The Pirates pulled within seven midway through the third quarter when Hunter Frame turned the corner and raced 41 yards for a touchdown.
But that's when the Tigers' offensive line exerted itself again, leading the way on a 12-play, 58-yard drive — all runs and most of those going off the left side behind 6-foot-3, 282-pound all-state tackle Malachi Hayden and Hunter Brown. The back-breaking touchdown drive ended with a 5-yard run by Carroll with 5:51 remaining.
"We just wanted to pound it at them because we knew they had a lot of guys that go both ways and we wanted to wear on them," Hayden said. "We executed that perfectly.
"It was huge to jump on them the way we did early. You saw how they came back, so we just had to keep our foot on their throat and put the game away. I'm a third-year starter and I take a lot of pride in anchoring our offensive line, but our other guys up front were doing their job, too."
The Tigers, who threw just five passes, ran 49 times for 258 yards, led by Meadows' 26 carries for 144 and Carroll's 18 carries for 77. The Pirates were held to 110 rushing yards.
South Pittsburg added a late score on Brayden Sanders' 7-yard toss to Reginald Hunter, who made a leaping catch in the back of the end zone with just more than a minute remaining, but the Tigers recovered the onside kick and were able to run out the clock. Fitzgerald had to find a spot on the team's bench to sit and rest for several minutes as the game ended after experiencing light-headedness.
"My heart was racing, and I just had to rest for a little bit," Fitzgerald said with a smile. "We've got Oneida coming in here next week with the region championship on the line, so they can't get rid of me that easy."