SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. (WRCB) -- The next test is a big one for South Pittsburg.
The top-ranked Pirates (11-1) will travel to Coalfield for Friday night's Class 1A state semifinals, where they'll be greeted by a Yellow Jackets' roster that may boast the most size in the small-school ranks.
"In the playoffs, once you get to a certain level you expect to run into big physical teams, but they've probably got the biggest and most athletic line I've ever seen in 1A," said South Pittsburg head coach Tim Moore.
Coalfield (9-3) has two Division 1 recruits, Zach Stewart and Benson Napier, on a line that averages 275 pounds. Stewart started against the Pirates in the playoffs as an eighth-grader three years ago, but now he's a 6-foot-5, 305-pound junior who has already verbally committed to the University of Tennessee.
Napier stands 6-foot-3 and weights 310 pounds, and has received interest from MTSU, Chattanooga and VMI, according to our media partners at the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The Pirates, though, are never ones to shy away from a challenge. In fact, they often go looking for one.
"We play up during our schedule all season long," said senior running back Kahlil Mitchell. "We only play like two 1A schools all year long to get us ready for the playoffs. When we're playing teams like Polk County, Hixson and Jasper, it's a different kind of football.
"Playing up really helps."
Playing in plenty of big games surely helps, as well.
South Pittsburg is playing in the state semifinals for the fifth time in the last seven years. Each previous trip led to a state title game appearance.
"I don't have to worry about the mindset of these kids once Friday rolls around," said Moore, who is in his first year as head coach at his alma mater after taking over for Vic Grider. "They know what's on the line and they're focused. I just have to do everything I can before that point to get them mentally ready."
Twice in that span have the Pirates claimed a state championship, with the last coming in 2010 when this year's seniors were freshmen. While that group owns a championship ring, they still feel like they're chasing their first.
"I kind of got spoiled because we went there my freshman and sophomore years, but we lost my sophomore year," said senior running back and Mr. Football finalist JaJuan Lankford. "It would mean a lot to go back and win it this year because when we were freshmen we didn't do much to help them get that ring.
"We just practiced and help make them better, but it would be nice to go earn one ourselves on the field."
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET at Coalfield on Friday with full coverage to follow on Week 14 of Channel 3's Friday Night Football at 11:15 p.m. ET.
The winner advances to face either Union City or Nashville Christian in next Friday's Class 1A state championship game at Tennessee Tech's Tucker Stadium in Cookeville.
Friday Night Football Week 14 Schedule
TSSAA State Playoffs - Semifinals
South Pittsburg (11-1) at Coalfield (9-3), 7pm
Cleveland (10-3) at Knoxville West (12-1), 7pm
GHSA State Playoffs - Quarterfinals
Central-Carroll (10-2) at Ringgold (10-2), 7:30pm
Calhoun (11-1) at Benedictine (12-0), 7:30pm
Class A - Private Schools
Darlington (9-2) at Eagle's Landing Christian (10-0), 7:30pm
NCHSAA State Playoffs - Quarterfinals
Hayesville (6-7) at Murphy (10-3), 7:30pm
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