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Same old, same old ~ Or can the Dragons move beyond Washington-Wilkes dominance?


On November 7, 1958 ~ the Jefferson Dragons played the Washington-Wilkes Tigers for the first time. The Dragons went into Washington with probably the best team they had ever put on the field up to that time.

The Tigers had a sophomore tailback in their single-wing offense named Johnny Gresham. He would become the ultimate thorn in the side of Jefferson for the following two years. But in 1958 the Dragons played what Coach John Davis said was “the best defensive game since he came to Jefferson in 1951.” The Tigers had come into the game as the number four ranked team in Georgia Class B.

The Dragon defense had held the Washington-Wilkes team to only three first downs, while racking up eight themselves. The Dragons rushed for 179 yards while holding the Tigers to only 61 yards on the ground and 32 more through the air. The 13-0 win was led by Gary Duke with 117 yards rushing, and Jeff Davis with 42 yards. Duke scored on a three-yard plunge and Davis on an eight-yard jaunt around left end. Jefferson would complete an 8-2 season that year and a final ranking of number 8 in the state.

The 1959 Jefferson ~ Washington-Wilkes game was in my mind the best game ever played on the old Memorial Field. The Tigers were having a rough year record wise with a chart of 2-3-2. Leading the team was a 5'8” tailback named Johnny Gresham. Jefferson was led by All-State running back Jeff Davis. Jefferson jumped out to an early 6-0 lead on a three-yard run by fullback Franklin Nichols. He also kicked the point after to make it 7-0 Dragons. That remained the score at half-time.

Gresham ran 63 yards for a score mid-way of the third quarter and kicked the point after to make it 7-7. Late in the third quarter, Gresham carried into the Dragon line and was met by Herbert Wilson and Damon Gause in a violent collision. The Tiger back was escorted off the field with his two upper front teeth broken as his face-guard had been pushed back into his mouth. He stood on the side-line for one play and then returned to the Tiger lineup. Mouth protectors would not come into prominence in Georgia high school football until 1962.

The game rocked on with both teams playing great defense. With less than three minutes remaining in the game. Jefferson halfback Davis fielded a punt on his 29 yard-line, turned on the burners and darted 71 yards for the score and a 13-7 Dragon lead. Nichols point after attempt was wide to the right.

The low trajectory kickoff from Nichols hit on the Tiger 12 and skipped into the end zone for the touch-back. Washington-Wilkes would put the ball in play on the 20 yard-line with 2:08 remaining in the game.

On first down Gresham took the direct snap in the Tigers single-wing offense and cut off tackle. He eluded a tackle at the 30 yard-line and outraced the speedy Davis, who fought off two blocks as he pursued the play in a futile attempt to make the tackle. Gresham then calmly kicked the point after to seal a stunning 14-13 Tiger win.

In 1960 the Tigers rolled to an easy 42-6 win as Gresham ran for three touchdowns and kicked six extra points. Jeff Davis and Don Tompkins were injured in the first half as the Dragons were never in the game from the opening kickoff.

The Tigers would roll to the state title that year. Gresham would be the state Class B Back of the Year.

Jeff Davis would be named to every all-state team. He would score a touchdown for the North in the GHSA high school all-Star game at Grant Field in Atlanta later that summer.

Johnny Gresham and Jeff Davis would take their considerable talents to Georgia Tech and play on some of Coach Bobby Dodd's better Tech teams.

The next seven years saw the Washington-Wilkes team over-power the Jefferson lads by scores of 46-0, 33-6, 33-0, 37-0, 20-13, 38-0, and 39-7.

In 1968, the Dragons would pick up their first and only victory under Coach Jim Lofton by a 21-14 score in Washington.

The 1969 season saw Jefferson roll to an 8-0 record and Washington-Wilkes coming to town with an 7-1 record. The Tigers only loss was 19-14 to Thomson.

Washington-Wilkes jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead and won 35-7 to make the Dragons 9-1 season worthless as far as post season play. Only the region winner would advance. Washington-Wilkes would win the region and advance to the state semi-finals that year.

Currently Jefferson's record is 2 wins and 10 losses against the Tigers from Washington-Wilkes. We have not played them since 1969. It's been 43 years since the last match-up.

The Tigers of Washington-Wilkes are currently 5-0. They have scored 211 points in those five games and surrendered only 12. Their most impressive win was a 21-6 victory over perennial power Lincoln County in their second game of the season.

Can Bryant Sherriffs, Tristan Jackson  and the Dragon team slow down the high octane offense of the visitor? Can the Dragon offense outscore a Tiger team that can literally light up the scoreboard? Good questions that will be answered this Friday night in Jefferson.

The winner of this game will become a heavy favorite to win the 8-AA region and advance to the state playoffs.

One thing is for sure. All of us old timers that remember the Jefferson~washington-Wilkes rivalry from the late 50's into the late 60's are chomping at the bit for the game to get underway.

Here we go ! Toe meets leather ? ? ? ? ?


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