SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn.–Pirates head coach Vic Grider couldn’t even use his own words describing what it meant to beat Marion County, 24-17, after his program’s two-year drought.
In fact, it was the incoherent screaming of an assistant coach, for the moment, that stole the spotlight as Beene Stadium’s field became crowded with fans that haven’t seen a Pirate win in the State’s oldest rivalry since 2013.
“If you’re from South Pittsburg, there’s absolutely nothing like winning this game,” Grider said after recovering from the chants of the crowd now surrounding him. “It’s what you play for. I told them all week that if we could get it to the fourth quarter, they wouldn’t know how to handle it, and we could win the football game.”
And though the play started out slow, with a combined total of 13 points in the first half, the matchup picked up its historically-known pace for scoring tons of points–and fast–in the third quarter.
E.J. Cagle would make a 23-yard field goal after missing the extra point on the first touchdown scored by the Pirates in the first half. With roughly three minutes left in the third, Jacob Saylors would dip in for a 5-yard rush to put the Warriors up by five. Cade Kennemore would strike next with a 65-yard punt return, capped off by a Joseph Lilly 2-point conversion less than 10 seconds into the 4th quarter.
After trading blows, the Warriors would finally edges into Pirate territory enough for Houston McElroy to drill in a 23-yard field goal to knot it up at 17 apiece with exactly one minute left on the clock. And that was when the magic happened.
“It was all about the field position on the kickoff,” Grider said. “If we couldn’t get field position, we were going to kill it and go to overtime. We got a great return and got it about out to the 45-yard line. We took a couple of shots to Kennemore. The play before, I caught their corner squatting on a hitch. We decided in the timeout to go by him, and Cade’s a special player.”
Just like that, the Pirates were on top of the Warriors with 11 seconds to go. They would spent half of that on the kickoff return shortly after the made PAT by South Pittsburg. The Warriors were unable to make up a daunting distance with the 5.4 seconds left in the game.
And just like that, Vic Grider picked up his first win in the series since he returned from his coaching hiatus last season.
“I felt joy for my seniors,” Grider said. “They’ve been through a tough stretch, and nobody can ever take this away from them. They’ll have this win the rest of their lives, and that means the world to me.”
And though it may seem like the world to the fans on the other side of the historic rivalry, there is a silver lining in the clouds.
“This doesn’t necessarily help us accomplish our season goals,” Warriors head coach Joey Mathis said. “This game’s no different than any other. The rivalry just adds more fuel to the fire. The stakes are higher. That’s it.”
Both teams are still contenders after Friday night, but only one team can be the victor in the closest matchup since 2005 in the series. South Pittsburg snaps a two-game losing streak to the Warriors on their way to potentially stepping out on a State Title run.
Marion County will host Region 3-2A foe Brainerd while South Pittsburg get ready to tango with their first region test in Copper Basin.
MCHS — 7 | 0 | 7 | 3 || 28
SPHS — 0 | 6 | 3 | 15 || 10
1st (1:00) Isaiah Sampson, 1 Yard Rush [McElroy Kick Good]–Marion County 7, South Pittsburg 0
2nd (5:38) Hogan Holland, 5 Yard Pass to Cade Kennemore [Cagle Kick No Good]–Marion County 7, South Pittsburg 6
3rd (5:45) E.J. Cagle, 23 Yard Field Goal Good–South Pittsburg 9 , Marion County 7
3rd (3:47) Jacob Saylors, 5 Yard Rush [McElroy Kick Good]—Marion County 14, South Pittsburg 9
4th (11:48) Cade Kennemore, 65 Yard Punt Return [Lilly 2-pt. Conv. Good]—South Pittsburg 17, Marion County 14
4th (1:00) Houston McElroy, 23 Yard Field Goal Good—South Pittsburg 17, Marion County 17
4th (0:11) Hogan Holland, 30 Yard Pass to Cade Kennemore [Cagle Kick Good]—South Pittsburg 24, Marion County 17