In the end, Polk's inability to make good on four extra points and a crucial personal foul call on South Pittsburg's final drive set the Pirates up to score the game-winning touchdown with 20 seconds left in the game.
"I didn't do a good enough job getting these guys ready for the last eight weeks to cut some of these mistakes out in week nine. I got out-coached tonight, and that's bottom line. This falls on me," said Polk coach Derrick Davis of the disappointing 30-24 loss to the Pirates. "I've got to do a better job of getting these guys ready for a big game like this. We've got another one next week, and then the playoffs start."
The Wildcats (7-2) got the expected performance from workhorse fullback Zach Miller who bulldozed his way through the Pirates' defense for 162 yards but was held scoreless for the first time in nine games. Miller's night gave the big back 1,488 yards for the season.
South Pittsburg (9-1) countered with senior JaJuan Lankford, who zipped his way through and around the Wildcats for 139 yards.
Sloppy special teams play by the Wildcats led to the first Pirates score. Chase Blevins scooped up the ball on a blocked Wildcat punt and raced 30 yards to the end zone.
The Wildcats countered with a 39-yard TD pass from Josh Sillas to Corey Swallows. Sillas gave Polk a 12-7 lead with a 15-yard keeper on the first play of the second quarter.
Blake Cross got into the action minutes later with an 11-yard TD to put the Wildcats on top 18-7 after a failed two-point conversion attempt. The Pirates made it 18-10 with a Chase Frame 25-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
The Pirates wasted no time in trimming the deficit to 18-16 as the second half got underway. Lankford scored from 55 yards out on the second play of the third quarter.
The Wildcats answered on the ensuing kickoff with a 82-yard kick return from Chris Wimberley. The Pirates immediately cut the lead to two points in there next drive and trailed 24-22 headed into the fourth quarter.
After holding Polk on a fourth-and-9, South Pittsburg took over on its own 20-yard line with just over four minutes left in the game. A Polk personal foul with 3:17 left to play set the Pirates up at the Wildcats' 49. From there, the Pirates took nine plays to cover the distance with 20 ticks left on the clock. A two-point conversion gave South Pittsburg the 30-24 win.
"I've got to find a way to get these guys to understand the importance of not helping the No. 1-ranked 1-A team in the state out when it comes to personal foul penalties and getting the play in correctly. It's a disappointing loss," said Davis.
"The kids played really hard, but when you are the sixth-ranked team in class 1-AA you can't make mistakes like we made in a game like this. I just didn't do a good job of getting them ready."
Polk will line it up against Loudon Friday night in the Wildcats' final District 5-AA game of the season and the last regular-season matchup. A win against the Redskins could play an essential role in a favorable draw for Polk in the first game of the postseason.
"It's Senior Night next week, and we've still got a lot to play for. We have a chance to finish 8-2 for the regular season and possibly host at least the first round of the playoffs," said Davis. "I don't want to look past that because we haven't done a great job of getting out of the first round. We are guaranteed two more games, and that is going to be the focus."
Polk County 6 12 6 0 — 24
South Pittsburg 7 3 12 8 — 30
SP — Chase Blevins 30-yd blocked bunt return (Chase Frame kick), 6:20
PC — Corey Swallows 39-yd pass from Josh Sillas (kick failed), 4:50
PC — Sillas 15-yd run (pass failed), 11:53
PC — Blake Cross 11-yd run (pass failed), 9:14
SP — Frame 25-yd field goal, 0:00
SP — JaJuan Lankford 55-yd run (pass failed), 11:27
PC — Chris Wimberley 82-yd kick return (kick failed), 10:51
SP — Kahlil Mitchell 4-yd run (pass failed), 6:26
SP — Lankford 2-yd run (Lankford pass from Kit Grider), :20
First downs 11 13
Rushes-yards 41-193 44-227
Passing yards 82 48
Total yards 275 275
Comp-Att-Int 7-8-0 3-11-0
Punts -Ave. 5-17.4 4-35.5
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 3-1
Penalties 6-60 8-52
Rushing: Zach Miller 23-162 (PC); JaJuan Lankford 16-139, Kahlil Mitchell 19-77 (SP).
Passing: Josh Sillas 7-8-0 82 (PC); Kit Grider 3-11-0 48 (SP).
Receiving: Corey Swallows 3-47 TD (PC); Lankford 2-37 (SP).
Records: Polk County 7-2; So. Pittsburg 8-1.