The long-anticipated first matchup between state-line neighbors North Jackson and South Pittsburg (Tenn.) lived up to the hype.
Unfortunately for North Jackson, it ended in heart-breaking fashion.
Visiting South Pittsburg threw two long touchdowns in the fourth quarter to rally from a 13-point deficit and edge the Chiefs 21-20 Friday night at R.D. Hicks Stadium in Stevenson.
South Pittsburg (3-0) trailed 20-0 in the third quarter but rallied through the air as it managed just 78 rushing yards against the Chiefs. The Pirates had three touchdown passes of 40-plus yards.
The game was dubbed “The Border Battle” as the teams met for the first time in front of huge crowd. South Pittsburg was a longtime opponent the former Bridgeport and Stevenson High Schools that consolidated to form North Jackson in 1988.
North Jackson (2-3) turned good field position after a bad snap on a South Pittsburg punt into a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter, getting runs of 23 and 7 yards from EJ Wilson to set up Dalton Morris’ 1-yard touchdown run and the first of Tito Vasquez’s two PATs.
The Chiefs went in front 14-0 in the second quarter after another South Pittsburg turnover when Nick Jernigan intercepted a pass at the Chiefs’ 17-yard line. Three plays later, Brady Cunningham caught a pass and turned it into a 71-yard gain to the South Pittsburg 16-yard line. Three plays later, Macklin Guess punched it in from 3 yards out to send the Chiefs into halftime with a two-score advantage.
After forcing South Pittsburg to a three-and-out to start the third quarter — the Pirates managed just two first downs in the first half — North Jackson drove 57 yards on eight plays, highlighted by Morris’ 24-yard run and ultimately capped by Morris’ 15-yard touchdown pass to Wilson that gave the Chiefs a 20-0 lead with 6:09 left in the third quarter.
After the teams traded punts, South Pittsburg pulled within 20-7 on Richard Hunter’s 65-yard touchdown pass to RaCash Kelly and Cooper Keown’s PAT with 2:24 left in the third quarter.
It stayed that way until less than five minutes remaining when Jayden Mount, on a third-and-16 play, escaped pressure and lofted a long pass to Jacob Bivens, who made a contested catch and got away from a North Jackson defender to find the end zone from 42 yards out. Keown’s PAT made it 20-14 with 4:36 remaining.
South Pittsburg then forced a North Jackson punt, but the Pirates muffed it and Guess recovered near midfield. But the Chiefs couldn’t convert a first down, and a fake punt was unsuccessful. South Pittsburg took over at the 50-yard line with 1:29 remaining, but grounding penalty on second down had the Pirates facing a third-and-21. The Pirates ran a reverse and then pitched it back to Mount, who found Reginald Hunter behind the Chiefs defense for a 66-yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds remaining. Keown then kicked the extra point to give the Pirates the lead.
North Jackson got one last drive, moving to the South Pittsburg 25-yard line after Morris’ completions to Will Sims for 16 yards and Myron Walton for 26 yards. After a false start penalty, Morris was sacked, and time expired before the Chiefs could spike the ball to stop the clock.