Deandre Kelly Rushes Pirates Past McKenzie In Thrilling DI-A Finish

South Pittsburg Adds Sixth Gold Ball With 24-21 BlueCross Bowl Win

  • Friday, December 3, 2021
  • Joseph Dycus
South Pittsburg's Giovanni Davis rumbles for yardage against McKenzie in the DI-A BlueCross Bowl championship game Friday afternoon. The Pirates edged the Rebels, 24-21, to win their sixth title in school history.
South Pittsburg's Giovanni Davis rumbles for yardage against McKenzie in the DI-A BlueCross Bowl championship game Friday afternoon. The Pirates edged the Rebels, 24-21, to win their sixth title in school history.
photo by Lawson Whitaker
Amid a mass of at least 15 bodies, someone was bound to jump on the loose ball in the third quarter of the BlueCross Bowl. South Pittsburg's Dezman McNeal did more than just jump on it - he scooped the precious object up and saw nothing but green grass in front of him. 15 yards later, McNeal was in the endzone and the Pirates had tied the game against McKenzie. 

"I was like, it's go time! I wasn't even fifteen yards from the goal line so you know I was burning it up," McNeal said. "I wasn't nervous, but it was a moment that you knew that if you took it over, you knew the team was going to succeed for sure."

South Pittsburg, now with all of the momentum, went on to win the DI-A state championship 24-21. Less than six months after coach Chris Jones abruptly left the team for a job in the Canadian Football League, the Pirates hoisted the BlueCross Bowl's signature golden ball in front of thousands of orange-clad South Pitt fans.  

"We had to get the kids to trust us, and we told them 'we know you're upset coach left' and I told them I'm not going anywhere," co-head coach Wes Stone said. "I told them that if they kept believing and give us a chance to earn your trust, you'll see the dividends down the road."

McKenzie's and South Pitt's defenses came ready to play in the first quarter. The Pirates, led by the unblockable Giovanni Davis, held the Rebels in check despite the Jackson Cassidy-led offense having more than a few long gains. Running back Marquez Taylor had some elusive moves in the Rebels backfield, and started his night with a 14 yard rush. 

Richard Hunter and Deandre Kelly were a handful for the McKenzie defense too, and Kelly began his day with a 16 yard burst down the sideline. But after the Rebel defense got settled in, they were able to get the Pirates to turn the ball over on downs on the 27 yard line. 

From there, Cassidy took two snaps to give his team the lead. On his first pass, Marquez Taylor went for 25 yards. And on his second, Zavier Webber went for a sudden 48 yard score. Following a Kelly pick by Rashad McCreary, Marquez used his speed to slip through the Pirate defense and into the endzone for a 27 yard touchdown. 

A team as resilient as South Pittsburg was not just going to roll over and give up though. Reginald Hunter, Kelly, and a gritty offensive line finally put together a great drive with Richard Hunter running the show. Kelly, the game's Most Valuable Player and a Mr. Football finalist, was especially electrifying to end the drive in the second quarter.

"It's amazing, because we had a lot of doubters and we proved them all wrong," Kelly said. "It's the best feeling, because I know I have a state title for the rest of my life."

Kelly took the handoff and began to run to the left. After following good blocking, he accelerated down the sideline before he encountered more adversaries. Kelly lowered his shoulder and ran through the last line of defense, pulling the Pirates to within seven with 8:31 to go in the second quarter.

"I think that us throwing the ball early in the game actually helped our run game,"  Stone said. 

After neither team could strike again in the first half, the teams went to halftime and regrouped. South Pittsburg, perhaps helped by the homefield advantage and a large contingent of vocal Pirate supporters, came out on fire. 

Standing in on the 20 yard line, Marquez carried the ball but immediately was met by Josiah Huntley. The Pirate defender ripped the ball out and Dezman McNeal picked it up at the 15 yard line. He ran it back for a touchdown, tying the game at 14-14. Much like the second quarter, neither team could score again the rest of the quarter. 

"I told them at halftime, 'let's find a way to turn them over,'" coach Stone said. "We got ten points in the second half off turnovers, and we ended up winning by three."

Early in the fourth, McKenzie went with trickery to keep the Pirates off guard. Or at least they tried, because Taylor's deep pass to Cassidy on the wildcat play was broken up by Jailyn Pellam on a jump-ball situation. Instead of a big play, the Rebels had to punt the ball back to the Pirates. 

Deandre Kelly started the next drive by following a couple of pulling blockers to his left. After the way was cleared, he ran down the sideline until he was forced out past midfield 34 yards from the line of scrimmage. Kelly carried the ball twice more to the 30 yard line before Richard Hunter diversified the offense and kept the ball on an option. 

Three blockers in the backfield erased any immediate defenders in Kelly's way as he took the direct snap at the 28 yard line. He ran straight up the middle, used his left arm to ward off a defender, and then sprinted to his right and gave South Pitt a 21-14 lead with 7:53 to go in the game. 

"Deandre is the heart and soul of this team, and is the ultimate team player" coach Stone said. "I think Deandre wore on them in the second half too. We knew we were going to have a second half push, and he gets better as the game goes on."

First and 10 turned into second and 15 after Giovanni Davis ripped into the backfield and buried the tailback in the backfield. And then Jamarion Farrior turned second and 15 into a South Pitt possession inside the 20 yard line when he met the tailback in the hole, ripped the ball out of his hands, tehn flipped the ball back to McNeal, who ran it back inside the redzone. 

"I ain't ever going to forget this," Davis said. "I knew we could be here at the end of the year. There were a lot of doubters, but we knew we had it in the bag and let the doubters say what they had to say."

The Pirates got the ball down to the one yard line on three runs, and then opted for a field goal to turn it into a two-possession lead. Cooper Keown took a deep breath, lined himself up, and connected on the chip shot field goal even with a less-than-perfect snap.  

Cassidy promptly took McKenzie on a furious drive downfield as the time ticked away. He hit Zach Aird on a 15 yard fade route down the right sideline to make it a one-score game again. But the ensuing onside kick was unsuccessful, and the Pirates ran out the clock to clinch the championship.

"After we lost our coach, I really didn't think we'd come this far," Kelly said. "But coach Stone and coach (Heath) Grider stepped up and we made it, baby. We're state champions!"

MCKENZIE                     14     0     0      7 -- 21
SOUTH PITTSBURG       0     7     7    10 -- 24

MK –  Zavier Webber 48 pass from J Cassidy (Zach Aird kick) (1:58, 1st)
MK – Marquez Taylor 27 run (Zach Aird kick) (0:15, 1st)
SP  –  Deandre Kelly 19 run (Cooper Keown kick) (8:31, 2nd)
SP  –  Dezman McNeal  15 fumble recovery (Cooper Keown kick) (5:28, 3rd)
SP  –  Deandre Kelly 28 run (Cooper Keown kick) (7:53, 4th)
SP  –  Cooper Keown 19 field goal (3:01, 4th)
MK – Zach Aird 15 pass from Jackson Cassidy (Zach Aird kick) (1:14, 4th)

MK                STATS              SP
16                  1st Downs       16                  
35-137           Rush               36-221                          
202                 Pass               85                           
339                Total                306                           
13-22-0         Passes            10-21-2                          
5-51              Penalties          6-49                     
3-29.0           Punts               3-28.3                             
33-2              Fumbles           0-0                   
Individual Stats
Rushing: Marquez Taylor 21-85, Jackson Cassidy 10-37, Rashad McCreary 3-16 (MK); Deandre Kelly 19-177, Racash Tipton 4-22, Richard Hunter 6-21,Giovanni Davis 1-7, Kamden Wellington 1-4, Jayden Mount 1-3, Reginald Hunter 1-1, TEAM 3-(-14) (SP).
Passing: Jackson Cassidy 13-21-0 for 202 yards; Marquez Taylor 0-1 for 0 yards (MK); Richard Hunter 10-20 for 85 yards, Jayden Mount 0-1 for 0 yards (SP).
Receiving:  Andrew Cole 4-43, Zavier Webber 3-70, Zach Aird 2-43, Marquez Taylor 2-38, Rashad McCreary 2-8 (MK); Racash Tipton 5-33, Reginald Hunter 3-37, Keshaun Hill 2-15 (SP)
Records: McKenzie (14-1), South Pittsburg (11-2)
MVP: Deandre Kelly (South Pittsburg)

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