I I I I PHOTOS I I
THE 2012 JEFFERSON DRAGONS GAME BY GAME REVIEW
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2012 JEFFERSON DRAGON FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Jefferson ~ Commerce
On the night that Commerce christened recently re-named “Ray Lamb Stadium” in honor of the legendary Tiger coach, it also got back to another tradition — beating Jefferson.
Commerce (1-0) dominated the line of scrimmage and ran wild over the visiting Dragons, thumping
Jefferson (0-1) 22-7 Friday to end the Dragons’ five-year stranglehold on this series.
“We knew that they were good,” Jefferson coach T. McFerrin said. “We’d seen them and knew their offensive line was really good. They have a good football team. They certainly played well.
My hats off to them. They deserved to win the game.”
Tiger senior Jamal Browner ran for 160 yards on 20 carries and scored two touchdowns, and fellow senior Terrick Ramsey ripped off an 81-yard touchdown run as the Tigers won for the first time in this series since 2006.
Commerce now owns a 42-20-5 edge in the rivalry.
The Tigers didn’t complete a pass but finished with 377 rushing yards on the night, including 220 yards in the second half. Commerce also limited Jefferson’s pass-heavy offense to just 215 total yards.
“We played very poorly, and I was very disappointed in that,” McFerrin said. “It wasn’t any one person, it wasn’t any one side of the ball. It was everything.”
The game was tied at seven in the third quarter when Ramsey got loose for his 81-yarder. Browner then punctuated the Tiger win with an eight-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Jefferson hasn’t lost a season opener since 2007.
“They should have won the game, but we could have won the game,” McFerrin said. “If we had executed and not made the mistakes we made — even though we might not have deserved to win, we could have won the football game.”
The 67th meeting of these two schools — in the series dubbed “The River War” — was highlighted by momentum swings.
Commerce opened with an 80-yard touchdown drive, capped off by a 12-yard touchdown run by Browner to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead.
“I think the way they just ran through us on that first series maybe shell-shocked our guys,” McFerrin said. “We might not have realized how good Commerce was, our players might not have, although we’d been telling them all week long.”
Browner then ripped off a 51-yard run in the second quarter to the Dragon five, but Commerce coughed up the ball on the very next play.
Jefferson responded with a 95-yard touchdown drive, finished off by Shirreffs who scored on a 10-yard run to tie the game at seven.
The Dragons later got the ball back in prime real estate on the Tiger 20 when Commerce botched a punt. But that’s when the momentum shifted again.
Commerce came up with an interception on the very next play to keep the halftime score 7-7.
Ramsey, who finished with 103 yards on just four carries, broke his 81-yarder with 7:30 left in the third quarter to put the Tigers up 14-7.
Jefferson tried to answer with a drive to the Tiger 10, but a perfectly drawn-up halfback pass off a reverse was dropped in the end zone as the fourth quarter began.
Commerce then delivered the knock-out blow by chewing up over eight minutes of clock and getting Browner’s eight-yard touchdown with 3:28 left.
McFerrin pointed to Jefferson’s numerous missed opportunities on the night — including four trips inside the Tiger 34 that yielded no points. “I told them yesterday (Monday), when you do that and don’t score a point, you’re not going to win any games against good football teams,” McFerrin said.
Jefferson ~ Jackson County
FEELING it gleaned a valuable lesson from its Aug. 31 loss to Commerce, Jefferson bounced back from its week-one disaster with a 28-6 victory over Jackson County this past Friday night at Memorial Stadium.
Jefferson (1-1) scored the last 21 points of the contest to turn a 7-6 game in the second quarter into a comfortable win in this crosstown series.
Dragon linebacker Wesley Simonton said he and his teammates took the field Friday with a renewed focus following the previous week’s “wake-up call.”
“That (losing to Commerce) might have been the worst thing that could happen but the best thing that could happen to us, because we came out here as a new team and I don’t think anybody expected this,” said Simonton, who had a monster game with 14 tackles and four sacks.
Jefferson, which improved to 5-0 all-time against Jackson County (1-1), put up 377 total yards in its bounce-back win.
Bryant Shirreffs threw for 173 yards on 12-of-20 passing with a touchdown. He also ran for another score. Sammy Williams romped for a career-high 119 yards and one touchdown.
McKay Dickens and Trent Sorrells both had touchdown receptions, with Sorrells catching a 21-yard
strike from Shirreffs in the fourth quarter and Dickens catching a 21-yard halfback pass from Isaiah Blake in the first quarter.
Defensively, Jefferson shutdown the Panthers’ spread offense over the last three-and-a-half quarters. In addition to Simonton’s huge night, Kody McDonald had 12 tackles and two sacks.
“I was proud of the defense,” Jefferson coach T. McFerrin said. “That’s tough to defend, all that spread stuff, so I thought our defense played well.”
The coach said his team did some good things on offense, too.
“We had a lot of yardage, I know that, more than 28-points worth,” McFerrin said. “It’s just great to get a win.”
McFerrin said his team beat a much-improved Jackson County squad. “They’ve got 19 starters back, I think,” he said. “They’re big and strong. I was worried sick all week long. I was worried the first half, it was so close. We moved the ball, but something would happen. We’d make a mistake of some kind.”
Jefferson committed 15 penalties in the win.
“I’ve never had that many penalties in my life,” he said. “We’ve got to get that corrected. Overall, though, we played hard and we played well. I was proud of them.”
First-year Jackson County coach Benji Harrison couldn’t fault his team’s effort as he suffered his first head-coaching loss.
“I was proud of our kids the first half,” Harrison said. “I thought we came out and battled with them. We let the game get away from us a little bit in the second half. I thought our kids fought.”
Jefferson struck early, driving 68 yards on the game’s opening drive and getting the Blake-to-Dickens touchdown pass on a trick play.
“We practiced it and practiced it this week,” said Dickens, who finished with 43 yards receiving.
“He (Isaiah Blake) threw it perfect. We couldn’t have called it at a better time and it couldn’t have been executed better.”
Not to be outdone, Jackson County scored its lone touchdown on its first play from scrimmage when Kyle Daniel threw a screen pass to Dustin Scott, who took it 80 yards for a score. The PAT was no good.
“Oh, that was a great start,” Harrison said. “You can’t ask for anything more out of the first play of the game. We were hoping it would get us a little momentum. We couldn’t sustain it. Bottom line, we couldn’t sustain the momentum offensively.”
Simonton said the Dragon defense settled down after that play.
“That first play when they scored that touchdown, we just weren’t focused,” Simonton said. “After that, I think all our young boys, we got together as a team and just went from there and they couldn’t stop us.”
Jefferson didn’t score again until very late in the first half. The Dragons, aided by a pass interference penalty, drove 55 yards and scored when Shirreffs dived in from one yard out with 24 seconds left to go up 14-6.
“That was big,” McFerring said. “That gave us some momentum going in. Every touchdown is big.”
Jefferson recovered an onside kick to start the second half and drove for another score. Aided this time by a roughing-the-punter penalty and two offsides in fractions from Jackson County, the Dragons moved 43 yards and got an eight-yard touchdown from Williams with 7:00 left in the third quarter.
The Dragons’ final touchdown came on Shirreffs’ touchdown strike to Sorrells at the 11:18 mark in the fourth quarter.
Overall, Harrison said his team didn’t make enough big plays and made too many mistakes to win the game. “Obviously, we don’t like the score at all,” he said. “But I thought we had a chance. We gave ourselves a chance at halftime. I think our kids believed we could win it.”
Meanwhile, Jefferson left the field feeling a lot better than it did the previous week.
“Words can’t describe how much better it feels,” Dickens said. “I think everybody knows that. It’s the complete opposite.”
Jefferson ~ North Hall
Jefferson quarterback Bryant Shirreffs says he loves the fourth quarter.
The entire Dragons (2-1) program loved the way their third-year signal-caller orchestrated their offense and a come-from-behind 27-21 victory over North Hall on Friday at The Brickyard.
Trailing 21-12 early in the fourth quarter, Shirreffs was the man behind two Dragon touchdowns.
In the final period, Shirreffs completed all six of his pass attempts and picked up big chunks of yards almost every time he ran the ball, primarily out of an empty backfield.
“Bryant showed a lot of character tonight,” Jefferson coach T. McFerrin said. “He did a great job running with the ball. “We put the game on his shoulders.”
“That was incredible,” Shirreffs said. “That was the most inspirational game I’ve ever been part of.”
To give Shirreffs more room to run, McFerrin said Jefferson went with the empty backfield to spread out the Trojans’ (2-1) defense. On each touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, Shirreffs (127 rushing yards, 144 passing) set up the score with a run of 15 yards.
“We have to find an answer to playing against that,” North Hall coach Bob Christmas said. “We’ll see alot more of that later in the season.”
The Dragons rolled the dice and recovered an onside kick while trailing 21-19 with 6:15 left to play and the ball at their own 38 after a 15-yard penalty at the end of the play.
On the winning touchdown drive, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Shirreffs started the drive with a run of 10 yards, then completed an 18-yard pass to tight end Donnie Hatfield, who led all receivers with seven catches for 71 yards.
Jefferson scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 10-yard pass to Chandler Thompson in the corner of the end zone.
However, North Hall made things interesting on its final drive, thanks to a couple long runs by Kevin Christmas, who finished with a game-high 21 carries for 180 yards. Christmas’ 4-yard run got the ball down to the Jefferson 18 with only 15 seconds left.
After a pass attempt went in an out of a Trojan receiver’s hands on third-and-4 in the end zone, junior quarterback Andrew Smith took the ball running from one side of the field to the other and got all the way down to the 4 before being tackled to end the game.
“That was a supernatural effort by Andrew on that final play,” North Hall’s coach said.
Christmas was not so pleased with the mental mistakes. Despite running for 398 yards, the Trojans were penalized for 81 yards and turned the ball over twice on fumbles in the first quarter. “Those penalties killed us,” Christmas added.
Despite the slow start and trailing 6-0 in the second quarter after Shirreffs’ first touchdown run, North Hall responded with a 1-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Bradley Brown and a 3-yard score by Kevin Christmas.
Trailing 14-6, Shirreffs scored his second touchdown for Jefferson with just 4:00 left in the opening half on a run from the 4.
Kevin Christmas had his longest run of the game early in the fourth quarter with a 31-yard touchdown run and 9:08 left in the game, giving the Trojans a 21-12 lead. The touchdown drive started when North Hall’s Marcus Hulsey intercepted a Shirreffs pass at the goal line, bringing an end to a promising Jefferson possession.
Then Jefferson started to rally.
The Dragons’ first touchdown drive just seven plays, the biggest of which was a 16-yard run by Shirreffs down to the North Hall 10. Sammy Williams scored two plays later on a run from the 3 for the Dragons.
After recovering the ensuing onside kick and first down at their own 38, the Dragons started with a big run by Shirreffs that went for 10, followed by another run by the quarterback up the middle for 7.
Shirreffs said all the credit for the comeback goes to Jefferson’s defense for making some big stops, especially the one on the Trojans’ final drive. North Hall also stalled out on a nine-minute drive to start the third quarter and failed to score when a long field goal came up just short.
Both programs have next week off before starting region play. North Hall visits Dawson County on Sept. 28 to get started in Region 7-AAA. Jefferson visits Region 8-AA opponent Greene County on Sept. 28 in Greensboro.
Jefferson ~ Green County
ON THE heels of an off-week, Jefferson proved to be a well-rested, well-oiled machine Friday night.
The Dragons rolled to a 62-26 win over Greene County, piling up 426 yards and tallying their highest point total in three years.
“We were able to run the ball and throw the ball and we were able to get some big first downs by drawing them off-sides,” Jefferson coach T. McFerrin said. “Overall, it was a real good offensive night.”
The contest was decided rather early as the Dragons scored 27 points in the first quarter and led 34-6 at the half. Jefferson upped its lead to 48-12 after three quarters. Jefferson scored nine touchdowns on the night, including a 50-yard punt return by Rodney Carr.
Quarterback Bryant Shirreffs enjoyed a commanding performance in leading Jefferson to its third-straight win.
He ran for 103 yards — his second-straight 100-yard rushing performance — and threw for 159 yards on 11-of-19 passing. Shirreffs both ran and threw for a touchdown.
All totaled, Jefferson finished with 254 yards rushing, getting two touchdowns apiece from three different ball carriers — Tristan Jackson (11 carries, 60 yards), Sammy Williams (six carries, 39 yards) and Austin McAllister (six carries, 52 yards).
Shirreffs completed passes to nine different Dragon receivers.
McKay Dickens caught two of those passes for 49 yards, including a touchdown reception on the Dragons’ second play. The other targets were Dalton Hill (2-44), Jackson (2-23), Chandler Thompson (1-28), Donnie Hatfield (1-23), Isaiah Blake (1-18), Williams 1-13), Micah Carpenter (1-7) and Hunt Haynes (1-3).
Jefferson, which surrendered 237 total yards, got off to a fast start defensively.
The Dragons forced three consecutive three-and-outs to start the game, and the Jefferson offense answered with three touchdowns.
Greene County, however, ended up scoring three touchdowns against Jefferson’s first team defense before the night was done as the Tigers were able to use their athleticism at receiver against the Dragons.
“They were great receivers,” McFerrin said. “They were really good receivers. And the quarterback would just throw the ball up and my biggest fear is exactly what happened.”
The Dragons’ 62 points were the most they’ve scored since beating Union County 63-28 in 2009.
Not coincidently, the Jefferson offensive line had a standout night in the win with all five starters earning high marks. “(Offensive line coach) Ben Hall grades the line every week and he said it was by far the best game they’ve played,” McFerrin said.
Jefferson ~ Washington-Wilkes
JEFFERSON — Jefferson High quarterback Bryant Shirreffs has given teams fits all season. Chalk up seventh-ranked Washington-Wilkes as the latest he’s ripped apart, as the Dragons jumped to the front of Region 8-AA as the team to beat with a 31-0 win against the Tigers on Friday at Memorial Stadium.
Shirreffs accounted for 265 yards of total offense, and helmed a Dragons offense that put up 395 yards against a Tigers defense that had allowed just 12 points through five games coming into the night. On top of that, Jefferson’s defense held Washington-Wilkes (5-1, 2-1 Region 8-AA) to just 109 yards of offense, far less that it averaged while putting up 42 points per game prior to its first loss of the season.
Jefferson coach T. McFerrin didn’t even have to think before saying it was the best the team has played in four years under his leadership.
“I’m speechless,” McFerrin said, pacing the field after the game. “Washington-Wilkes is one heck of a team. “That’s certainly the best we’ve played against an opponent that good.”
Shirreffs led the Dragons (4-1, 2-0) to scores on each of their first two possessions, while Washington-Wilkes’ previously sharp offense sputtered in only 10 offensive plays in the opening quarter.
“This win shows how much we’ve changed and become a better team,” Shirreffs said. “Washington-Wilkes was supposed to be the best team in the region.”
Shirreffs has gained a reputation as one of the toughest running quarterbacks in Northeast Georgia. While he ran hard again against the Tigers, his biggest contribution was probably a pass that went for long yardage in a key situation.
With Jefferson leading 10-0 midway through the second quarter, Shirreffs surveyed the field from the pocket on third and 12, hit his receiver Isaiah Blake for a short pass, then the receiver used his speed to pick up 68 yards.
“That play was designed to be a quick post, but turned out to be a game changer,” Shirreffs said.
After that long pass, Shirreffs showed off his running skills. At the Washington-Wilkes 20, Shirreffs took off with the ball and ran over a defender for a gain of 8. He did it again on the next play, running over a defender for 5 more yards. Shirreffs finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, giving the Dragons a 17-0 lead going into halftime.
Shirreffs finished the game with two rushing touchdowns and 60 yards on the ground, including an outstretched dive into the corner for a 3-yard score on the first play of the fourth quarter.
“Bryant was dynamite for us tonight,” McFerrin said.
Shirreffs also had some nice passes in the first quarter. On the game’s opening drive, he got Jefferson down field quick with short passes to McKay Dickens. Deep in Washington-Wilkes territory, Shirreffs went to the end zone and found his tight end Donnie Hatfield for a 22-yard touchdown pass.
Jefferson’s longest touchdown came on a 43-yard run by tailback Sammy Williams in the fourth quarter.
Washington-Wilkes had a promising drive going to start the second half, but stalled when senior quarterback Buck Robinson was hit for a 6-yard loss on fourth and 5 at the Jefferson 32. The Tigers managed to make it deep in Jefferson territory, following a 44-yard run by Jalen Turner, then another for 6 yards.
Washington-Wilkes also missed on some big plays on the late first-half drive when twice receivers fell after a short catch with room to run, then another time when the intended receiver slipped and fell when open.
Jefferson’s defense sacked Robinson four times on the night. Washington-Wilkes’ quarterback entered the game with more than 900 yards through the air, but could produce just 64 yards passing against the Dragons.
“I salute our defense 100 percent,” Shirreffs said. “They were great all night.”
Jefferson faces Rabun County on Friday in Tiger; Washington-Wilkes plays Greene County.
Jefferson ~ Rabun County
JEFFERSON answered any questions regarding a letdown Friday with opportunistic defense, a stout running game and an avalanche of second-half points in a 55-7 belting of Rabun County on the road.
The Dragons (5-1, 3-0) led just 13-7 at the half but exploded for 42 second-half points and rushed for 355 yards in their fifth win in a row. Jefferson also forced five turnovers, picked up six sacks and had two defensive scores. Click here for photos.
With the lopsided win, the Dragons successfully maintained the momentum gained from the previous week’s 31-0 shelling of no. 6 Washington-Wilkes.
“We knew that Rabun County had nothing to lose,” said Jefferson defensive end Tyler Bowen, who had five tackles, two forced fumbles and two sacks. “We knew it was their Super Bowl. We knew we had to come and play, and we couldn’t be cocky. So we came out, we executed and we played together and we won the football game.”
The Dragons remained unbeaten in region play and assumed sole possession of first place with yet another blowout of an 8-AA opponent.
But Jefferson coach T. McFerrin noted that there were some nervous moments when the score was 13-7.
“The first half was scary,” he said. “But we kept shooting ourselves in the foot. We had all kinds of chances and couldn’t score and (had) 55 yards in penalties, I think. It’s the same old story about penalties … We dropped balls and overthrew. It was just a bad first half.”
Quarterback Bryant Shirreffs led the way on the ground with 152 yards and three touchdowns.
Jefferson didn’t attempt a pass in the second half.
“Timing was off passing in the first half,” said Shirreffs, who now has three 100-yard rushing games this year. “So we ran it and they couldn’t stop us … We killed them in the second half with the running game. We didn’t need to pass.”
Shirreffs finished 10-of-22 with 103 yards passing and one interception in the first half before
Jefferson decided to go to its ground game exclusively.
“We decided we were going to try to run at them in the second half and we certainly did,” McFerrin said. “And the defense played great. I was really proud of them … They hung in there, because they (Rabun County) are a good offensive team. They’re really scary.”
Behind another solid game from their offensive line, the Dragons rushed for over 300 yards for the first time this year. The Jefferson offensive front was down a starter, but Todd Brown filled in for Ethan Hix at tackle and the line enjoyed what probably was its second-best game of the year — behind the Washington-Wilkes game — according to McFerrin.
Jefferson found most of its ground success with the power running game with toss sweeps to Sammy Williams — who finished with 81 yards and a touchdown — and in the option game.
“I’m glad we can mix it up every week and be successful,” Shirreffs said. “It was definitely the passion and drive that carried us through the second half.”
In addition to Shirreffs and Williams, Jefferson got contributions on the ground from Tristen Jackson, who ran for 61 yards and a touchdown, and Antonio Strickland, who rushed for 19 yards and one touchdown.
Jefferson got bookend defensive scores to begin and end the game.
Bowen forced the first turnover of the night, sacking Rabun County quarterback Wes Holcombe in the first quarter and ripping the ball loose. Fellow defensive end Rufus Whitfield picked up the loose ball and lumbered 35 yards for the touchdown to give Jefferson a 7-0 lead.
“My teammate Tyler Bowen made the sack, and saw the ball going, so I picked it up and started running,” Whitfield said. “There the end zone was and I scored.”
Said Bowen: “I saw the ball, and I knew then we had to go for it. Because I knew that would be the turning point of the game right there — start it off quick.”
Whitfield said the moment was plenty exciting. “A lot of adrenaline was rushing through my body,” the junior said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Trent Sorrells capped Jefferson’s night by picking off a fourth-quarter pass and returning it 84 yards for a score with 2.5 seconds left in the game to push the lead out to 48 points.
Austin Mixon and Wesley Simonton also had interceptions in the Dragons’ dominating effort.
Simonton finished with 14 tackles to up his team-leading total to 77. He also had a tackle for loss, giving him 15 for the year — also a team-best.
Jefferson ~ Oglethorpe County
JEFFERSON stayed atop the region standings convincingly.
With sole possession of first place in 8-AA, the Dragon football team easily dispatched another challenger, beating Oglethorpe County 43-0 Friday at Memorial Stadium.
“We won the game, and I’m glad we won the game,” Jefferson coach T. McFerrin said. “We came out with no injuries and took care of business.”
The Dragons (6-1) scored 17 points in the second quarter and led 30-0 at the half to win their sixth consecutive game.
In moving to 4-0 in the region, Jefferson topped the 40-point mark for the third time in four games and finished with 486 yards.
The Dragons demonstrated good balance running for 212 yards and throwing for 274 on just 34 snaps.
“We played really well on offense,” McFerrin said. “I was very pleased with our offense.”
McKay Dickens produced a career night with 118 yards receiving and a touchdown on four catches.
Sammy Williams enjoyed another solid night at tailback, running for 99 yards and a touchdown.
Tristen Jackson (16 yards on five carries) and Antonio Strickland (37 yards on five carries) both scored twice.
Bryant Shirreffs threw just nine passes, completing eight of them for 184 yards and a touchdown.
Younger brother Evan Shirreffs completed all three of his passes for 90 yards.
Chandler Schlutow also kicked a 38-yard field goal as Jefferson won its fourth region game this season by at least 30 points. The Dragons were able to take advantage of another large second-half lead.
“We got some guys in the fourth quarter that needed to play some,” McFerrin said. “That was good.”
The offensive line also graded out well, with McFerrin pointing to the efforts of Ethan Hix and Eli Griffin.
“They probably graded out higher than anybody on the offensive line,” McFerrin said. “So I was pleased with that.”
Defensively, Jefferson recorded its second shutout in its last three games.
Wesley Simonton led the Jefferson defense with 14 tackles and a tackle for loss. Kody McDonald finished with 13 tackles. Tradd Porter intercepted a pass for the Dragons.
Jefferson has surrendered just seven points over its last 12 quarters.
With the victory, the Dragons moved to 3-0 at home.
Jefferson ~ Social Circle
A PAIRING of the first and last-place teams in Region 8-AA this past Friday yielded the expected result.
Jefferson built a 47-0 halftime lead over Social Circle on the road in cruising to a 47-10 victory — the Dragons’ seventh in a row.
“The thing to get accomplished was to win the game and get out of there without an injury, then hopefully, play as many guys as we could that had not gotten to play much throughout the season,” Jefferson coach T. McFerrin said. “We accomplished all three of those things.”
Jefferson led 19-0 after a quarter and scored 28 more points in the second quarter to pave the way for an all-junior varsity second half.
This marked the fourth time this year that Jefferson has topped the 40-point mark.
Sophomore running back Sammy Williams rushed 14 times for 130 yards and two touchdowns as Jefferson finished with 511 total yards and 28 first downs.
The Dragons didn’t have to punt the entire game.
Antonio Strickland added 49 yards rushing and a touchdown. Austin McAllister and Tristen Jackson also had rushing touchdowns.
Dragon quarterback Bryant Shirreffs threw for 190 yards and two touchdowns on 7-of-11 passing in limited action due to Jefferson’s large lead.
Younger brother Evan Shirreffs came off the bench and hit 4-of-4 passes for 53 yards.
McKay Dickens finished with 83 yards receiving, while Chandler Thompson had a 62-yard touchdown reception. Donnie Hatfield also had 38 yards and a touchdown catch.
Social Circle managed just 114 yards and seven first downs in its 14th consecutive loss.
Wesley Simonton led Jefferson with 10 tackles, one sack and three tackles for loss. Kody McDonald had nine tackles and three tackles for loss.
Against the Dragon junior varsity players, Social Circle was able to punch in a touchdown and add a field goal in the second half.
Those two scores came as a result of two turnovers by the junior varsity offense.
“I told the defense after the game that we were going to give them a shutout,” McFerrin said.
McFerrin said he wasn’t overly disappointed with not getting an actual shutout. “I’m not going to let that override the good that happened and the fact that we won the game,” he said.
Jefferson improved to 14-5 all-time against Social Circle.
Jefferson ~ Riverside Military academy
THE JEFFERSON Dragons (8-1, 6-0) extended their win-streak to eight and clinched the Region 8-AA championship with a dominant 35-7 victory over Riverside Military Academy (1-8, 1-5).
Jefferson’s first region title since 2009 also ensured home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
“Overall I think it has been a really positive season,” said Dragon quarterback Bryant Shirreffs. “We are region champs, which feels great.”
The Dragons wasted no time in getting their high-powered offense firing on all cylinders on homecoming night.
After winning the coin toss and electing to receive, Jefferson drove 75 yards downfield. The drive was capped off by an 11-yard rushing touchdown by junior running back Tristen Jackson.
After forcing an Eagle punt, the Dragons found themselves facing a fourth down decision.
Jefferson elected to take a shot at a 42-yard field goal, but the kick sailed wide left, forcing the Dragons to turn the ball back over to Riverside.
Following another Riverside punt and a Jefferson turnover on downs, the Eagles showed a spark on offense when Riverside’s Elijah Holyfield broke a 77-yard touchdown run, tying the score at 7-7 early in the second quarter.
The tie was short-lived, when Shirreffs carried the ball into the end zone from 17 yards out, putting the Dragons up by a score.
Jefferson extended its lead quickly with Shirreffs throwing for touchdowns on two consecutive Dragon possessions; one to Donnie Hatfield and another to McKay Dickens.
Jefferson held a commanding 28-7 lead going into the half.
The Dragons would score once more in the third quarter, when Jackson ran in his second touchdown of the night.
The Jefferson defense held firm throughout the second half, keeping the Eagles out of the end zone for the remainder of the game.
McFerrin said beating Riverside was a challenge.
“They really played hard,” he said. “They played a really good game against us … They have some really good football players. The Holyfield kid is something else.”
Riverside showed the Dragons around five different defensive looks, none of which Jefferson had seen on film, according to McFerrin. Still, the Dragons earned almost 400 total yards of offense --- 186 through the air and 202 on the ground.
McFerrin praised his offensive coaches for their adjustments.
“We made game adjustments and took advantage of some of the things they were doing,” McFerrin said.
McFerrin also pointed to the play of the Dragon offensive front against Riverside’s blitzing defense.
“I’m proud of our linemen,” he said. “I was proud of them keeping their poise.”
Jefferson could have had much more yardage if not for a few dropped balls.
“The disappointing thing was the dropped passes,” McFerrin said. “We had 3-4 dropped passes.”
While Shirreffs was enthusiastic about sealing the region title, he feels that his team has the capability to perform at an even higher level.
“We have some more business to get done,” said Shirreffs. “We’ve kind of dropped off lately, so hopefully we can get back on track. I mean, we are winning, but we need to get things rolling a little better.”
Shirreffs was 15-of-21 passing with 186 yards and two touchdowns. He also racked up 81 yards on the ground and one touchdown.
McFerrin was pleased with Shirreffs’ night.
“Bryant Shirreffs had a great game,” McFerrin said. “He played one of his better games.” Had it not been for a few wide receiver drops, Shirreffs’ yardage “would have been astronomical.”
Jackson finished with 66 yards and two TDs.
Senior linebacker Wesley Simonton led the Dragon defense with 15 tackles on the night.
McFerrin noted the defensive effort of Justin Holcombe, Simonton and Tyler Bowen.
“We did some good things on defense,” he said.
Jefferson ~ Union County
JEFFERSON stat keepers may be checking the rushing record books after Friday night.
WITH THE luxury of having already clinched the Region 8-AA title, Jefferson could worry about other matters Friday — like sending the seniors out in style and fine-tuning for the state playoffs.
No problems there.
The Dragons got three touchdowns from Tristen Jackson and a pair of touchdown passes from senior Bryant Shirreffs as Jefferson capped a 9-1 regular season with a 42-7 Senior Night win over Union County.Click here for photos.
“It’s a great feeling,” senior receiver McKay Dickens said. “You know it’s coming every year and you don’t really think about it until it gets here and you realize it’s the last regular season game.
It’s good to get a win.”
The Dragons, winners of nine-straight, found a spark in the second quarter with touchdown runs of one yard, seven yards and one yard from Jackson as Jefferson led 27-0 at the half. The Dragons also scored on the opening drive of the game with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Shirreffs to Dickens.
Jefferson’s 27-point lead at the half put the game out-of-reach.
“It was nice to have a lead like that at halftime,” Jefferson coach T. McFerrin said. “It was a little bit of a slow start. They were doing a good job (defensively) ... It was sort of like a zone blitz. They were bringing their corners off the edge and we didn’t pick up some of their blitzes. But Bryant did a great job of adjusting and running the football.”
Shirreffs was 14-of-17 passing for 137 yards and two touchdowns and added 73 yards on the ground to finish with 210 total yards in his final regular season home game.
Jackson — who’s playing this year following an off-season knee surgery — finished with 61 yards rushing on 12 carries to go with his three touchdowns. He also had 38 yards receiving.
“He’s rounded in to shape ... He had a great night. He really ran the ball well,” McFerrin said. “I was proud of him.”
With the game in hand, the Dragons found the end zone twice in the second half with Shirreffs throwing a three-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Hatfield late in the third quarter and Evan Shirreffs throwing a 33-yard touchdown pass to Chase Wester early in the fourth. Jefferson recorded a safety in between those touchdown passes.
Union County managed its only score very late in the contest with a 28-yard touchdown run against Jefferson’s third-teamers.
Senior Kody McDonald led Jefferson defensively with 12 tackles and a tackle for loss. Fellow senior Wesley Simonton had 10 tackles, a pass break-up and a tackle for loss.
“We played with intensity tonight (Friday),” McFerrin said. “The defense played well.”
Offensively, Jefferson racked up 208 yards rushing and 379 total yards as these Dragons became only the 12th team in school history to win nine games. Jefferson has won all its games since losing opening night to Commerce.
“We’ve all said it: Commerce was a reality check,” said Dickens, who finished with 41 yards receiving. “It was bad and it hurt but in a way that was good for us. It let us get to where we are right now.”
“After we lost that first game, that’s what I wanted — 9-1,” McFerrin said. “Before that I wanted 10-0. I told the players that not many teams are 9-1 at this time and that’s something to be proud of. And there haven’t been a whole lot of region championships here. These seniors are now part of two region championships.”
Jefferson ~ Kendrick
TOP-SEEDED Jefferson took on Kendrick Cherokees at Memorial Stadium in the first round of the AA playoffs, and the Dragons came out on their home field with a purpose in a 42-8 win.
Jefferson has now won 10 consecutive games.
Right out of the gate, coach T. McFerrin’s squad came out aggressively unleashing their central offensive threat, senior quarterback Bryant Shirreffs.
On the opening drive, Shirreffs accounted for 54 yards out of 72 yards. He went 3-5 through the air for 35 yards including a touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Donnie Hatfield.
Things got even better for the Dragons.
The next drive started off with a fantastic 50-yard punt return by sophomore Rodney Carr that put the Dragons in great field position.
With a combination of Shirreffs’ legs and throwing ability he was able to drive the Dragons down to the one-yard line. Shirreffs finished with 87 yards passing on the night and 79 on the ground.
Junior Tristen Jackson finished the drive with a quick run up the gut for the touchdown to put the Dragons up 14-0. Jackson ran for 49 yards and two touchdowns on the night.
So far so good, but Jefferson had one minor hiccup on the night.
After dominating the majority of the quarter, the Dragons coughed up the pigskin after a quick pass to Chandler Thompson. The Cherokees recovered the ball and looked to take advantage.
Kendrick’s offense was centered around one player — running back Brandon Wade. Wade took on the majority of the carries and was good for four or five yards a carry. He carried the team into the end zone for a touchdown and a two-point conversion to trail Jefferson 14-8.
“They are big up front with great running backs,” McFerrin said.
This would be the only time the Cherokees saw the end zone all night.
Jefferson, before the half, scored on a 23-yard run by Jackson yet again to increase the lead 21-8.
“Even with a 21-8 lead, we were not comfortable” McFerrin said. “We had to make some defensive adjustments.”
The Dragons turned it up another notch in the second half. The defense forced a handful of three-and-outs and shutting out the Kendrick offense.
Jefferson was able to throw up another 21 points on the board, blowing out the Cherokees 42-8.
The backup Dragon squad even saw some playing time during playoff play.
Two touchdowns were through the air by the Shirreffs clan. One by Bryant to Jackson on a 20-yard toss. The second was from the younger Shirreffs to sophomore receiver Dalton Hill.
The other touchdown came on the ground by sophomore Sammy Williams on a 10-yard run.
Williams finished with 63 yards on 10 carries. Jefferson finished with 207 rushing yards on the night.
Jefferson ~ Westminster
Dragon quarterback Bryant Shirreffs ran wild for a career-high 248 yards and three touchdowns as Jefferson (11-1) overcame an early 7-0 deficit with 35 unanswered points to trounce visiting
Westminster 35-7 in the second round of the Class AA playoffs. Click here for photos.
“I put some new spikes in my cleats, so I guess that helped,” Shirreffs said light-heartedly in reference to his big night.
Shirreffs also threw a touchdown pass to Dalton Hill, and Sammy Williams added a rushing touchdown as the Dragons (11-1) tied a school record with their 11th-consecutive win.
“I was hoping we could win, but I certainly didn’t think we would win 35-7,” Jefferson coach T. McFerrin said.
Jefferson, a no. 1 seed, will move on to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 1977, matching up with no. 2 seed Fitzgerald next Friday at home.
“They really wanted to win this football game,” McFerrin said. “They showed a lot of character. I think they’ve been told so many times that we hadn’t been to the third round since 1977 or something like that. They wanted to get there.”
Not to be overshadowed by Shirreffs’ night was the effort of the Dragon defense, which shut out the Wildcats over the final 46:02 of the game and held Westminster to 165 total yards.
Wesley Simonton led Jefferson with eight tackles and two tackles for loss. Kody McDonald had eight stops and one tackle for loss.
“It just took us getting in, getting into our groove,” said McDonald, a senior linebacker. “Once we settled in … I mean, we’ve been counted out all year and been down but we’ve just been able to bounce back all season long.”
With the Dragon defense holding Westminster in check, Jefferson took over.
Shirreffs’ prolific night included scoring runs of one, 56 and 33 yards as he pushed his total to 14 touchdowns on the year.
His longest run, however, was a 72-yard second quarter jaunt down to the Westminster three.
“Unbelievable. Just unbelievable,” McFerrin said of Shirreffs’ night. “I didn’t know he could run that fast. I guess he runs fast when they’re chasing him maybe.”
Jefferson installed a quarterback sweep play on Wednesday and used it quite effectively Friday.
McFerrin explained the technicalities behind it.
“We saw on film that sometimes they move the outside linebacker on trips all the way over, so we just said, ‘well let’s have just have that in case they over-shift like that, let’s just run a sweep.’”
Making Shirreffs’ 248-yard total all the more remarkable was that he didn’t play for the last 7:06 due to the lopsided score.
Shirreffs, an accomplished passer, has now topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark with 1,018 yards on the year.
Others besides Shirreffs got in on the action.
Williams finished with 82 yards on the ground and one touchdown, and the offensive line helped pave the way to a 400-yard rushing night.
Jefferson threw sparingly, but Isaiah Blake led the Dragons with 41 yards receiving. Hill caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Shirreffs for the Dragons’ lone score through the air on the night.
The highlights even included a 22-yard run by kicker Chandler Schlutow — who finished 5-of-5 on PATs — on a third-quarter fake punt.
All this came after a rather inauspicious start for the Dragons.
Jefferson fumbled the ball away on its own 22 on the first play, which set up a three-yard touchdown run from Cameron Seward just 1:58 into the game.
McDonald agreed that the early score was a wake-up call.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “After that, we got to the sidelines, me and Wesley (Simonton) got everybody up. The coaches yelled at us a little bit, and we just got right back into it.”
Shirreffs also said that Westminster’s early score got the team’s attention.
“Honestly I got a little bit nervous,” he said. “But I knew we were going to score. That was unfortunate, but we overcame it … I think it was good for us being down, because we’re not down much as of late.”
Jefferson quickly erased any doubt with three consecutive scoring drives in the first half to give the Dragons a 21-7 lead. From there, Jefferson never looked back.
The victory gave the Dragons their third 11-win season in the last five years and secured at least one more home game.
Jefferson players wanted to make sure they reveled in this win — at least for Friday.
“It feels really good,” Shirreffs said. “I’m going to go to McDonalds and get a quarter-pounder with cheese and enjoy the night.”
JEFFERSON — It was a history making night Friday at Jefferson Memorial Stadium as the Jefferson
Dragons ran through the visiting Westminster Wildcats 35-7 to advance in the Class AA state playoffs.
“They wanted to make history.” said Jefferson Coach T. McFerrin, “We talked to the team about doing something that hadn’t been done since 1977.”
Not only are the Dragons (11-1) moving onto the quarterfinals for the first time since 1977 but they will also play at home next Friday against Fitzgerald.
The Dragons rode the feet of quarterback Bryant Shirreffs and a stingy defense to advance to the next round.
Shirreffs rushed for 243 yards and three touchdowns. He also added 80 passing yards and one touchdown pass.
In total, the Dragons rushed for 397 yards and outgained the Wildcats (5-7) 474-179.
The game didn’t start the way Jefferson imagined as it faced a 7-0 deficit less than two minutes into the game.
On the first play from scrimmage, Dragon quarterback Bryant Shirreffs found his receiver on a slant pass for 12 yards. However, a Westminster defender stripped the ball and Harrison Fiveash picked up the loose ball and returned it to the Dragon 22-yard line. Four plays later, Cameron Seward bullied his way into the end zone, giving the Wildcats the early lead.
“After that first fumble and the scored quickly it looked like it was going to be a long night for us," McFerrin said. “The defense played great. Our defense was unbelievable tonight.”
Jefferson responded with a 13-play drive to tie the game with 3:44 left in the first quarter. The biggest play of the drive, and maybe the game, was on fourth-and-goal from the Wildcats’ 1-yard line. Shirreffs faked a handoff to his fullback, kept the ball as he rolled to his right, and pushed his way in for a score.
The play actually called for Shirreffs to pitch the ball to his running back but he saw a hole and kept the ball, bulling his way in for the first Dragon score.
McFerrin showed no hesitation in going for the touchdown as opposed to kicking a field goal early in the game.
“We needed to score,” he said. “They have such a good offense. We needed to score.”
After the Dragons’ defense forced a punt, the offense put together a 10-play drive capped by a 12-yard touchdown pass from Shirreffs to Dalton Hill. Hill had beat his defender for position in the end zone and made a diving catch to put the Dragons ahead 14-7 with 10:07 left before halftime.
Leading only by 7, Shirreffs broke off a 71-yard run, taking the ball down to the Wildcats’ 4. On the play, Shirreffs took the snap from the shotgun, rolled to his right, and found nothing but open field. He nearly outraced the Westminster defense but he was finally tripped up at the 4-yard line.
Sammy Williams scored two plays later to make it a two touchdown advantage for the Dragons.
The second half saw Shirreffs add to his outstanding performance. Two of his three carries went for scores, seemingly on the same play and from the same formation. Not only did he pick up great blocks from his offensive linemen, but also from his receivers and backs.
If not for the performance of Shirreffs and the rest of the Jefferson offense, the story of the night was certainly the way the Dragons’ defense contained a very good Wildcat offense. Westminster was held to only 67 rushing yards while quarterback Jake Forte only had 8 rushing yards. He did add 112 passing yards to eight different receivers.
All night long, Dragon defenders Wesley Simonton, Kody McDonald, Tay Stevens and Micah Carpenter led the stuffing of the Wildcat offense. Stevens had one sack while Carpenter recovered a fumble for the Dragons.
“It was a great night for Jefferson and a great night to be a Dragon,” McFerrin said.
Jefferson ~ Fitzgerald
JEFFERSON — With a 31-16 lead during the fourth quarter, the Jefferson Dragons didn’t imagine that it would take three overtimes to advance to the state semifinals.
But the Dragons (12-1) needed that much extra time to defeat the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricanes 53-51 Friday night in Jefferson.
Jefferson advanced behind the arm of quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, who found Tristen Jackson on a 5-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 51-51 in the third overtime. The Dragons went for the 2-point conversion and Shirreffs found Sammy Williams for the game-winning score.
Next week, Jefferson is host to Greater Atlanta Christian, which defeated Early County on Friday night.
“Unbelievable. I’m just so proud of our players for not quitting,” Jefferson coach T. McFerrin said. “(Players) have a lot of character and courage. I’m just so proud of them.”
Shirreffs led the Dragons’ offense with 235 yards passing and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 80 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’m (tremendously) proud of our kids, being down two scores and the way Jefferson was playing, it would’ve been easy going into that fourth quarter to bow out,” Fitzgerald head coach Jason Strickland said.
The game only saw two punts and two sacks total. Fitzgerald committed the only turnover of the game with 1:09 left in the third quarter, which led to Williams’ second touchdown of the game and a 31-16 lead.
Fitzgerald outscored Jefferson for the rest of regulation, 15-0.
Ron Swain scored all three of Fitzgerald’s touchdowns in overtime. However, they were only able to connect on one of three two-point conversion attempts.
For Jefferson, Shirreffs ran in the first touchdown of overtime. Then, Jackson rushed in the second touchdown to send the game to a third extra period.
Fitzgerald tried to pull out at the stops from the beginning of the game. An onside kick started the game, but the Dragons’ special teams wasn’t fooled.
After recovering, Shirreffs marched the Dragons’ offense downfield and scored the first touchdown of the game on a 20-yard run with 9:50 left in the first quarter.
The Purple Hurricanes responded when Manuel Chavez connected on a 30-yard field goal to make it a 7-3 game with 4:02 left in the quarter. On the play before, the Purple Hurricanes had a touchdown called back by a holding call.
Shirreffs again led the Dragons downfield, connecting with Donnie Hatfield for a 4-yard touchdown and 14-3 lead after one quarter.
The next drive for the Purple Hurricanes’ offense didn’t take long. They scored in just over one minute, going four plays including a 40-yard pass from Romarius Gaulden to tight end Kevin Coney.
Larry Stewart finished the drive off with an 11-yard touchdown run, cutting the Dragons’ lead to 14-10.
On the Dragons’ next possession, the offense was unable to convert a fourth-and-2 and turned the ball back over. Jefferson’s defense returned the favor, holding the Purple Hurricanes’ offense to fourth-and-8 and disrupting the pass attempt to give their offense another shot before halftime.
The Dragons’ offense didn’t waste the chance. Facing a fourth-and-2 on the Purple Hurricanes 6-yard line, Williams pounded his way to the end zone for the touchdown, and a 21-10 lead at halftime.
The Purple Hurricanes started the third quarter off with a dominating drive, taking seven minutes and 35 seconds off the clock. Swain punched the touchdown in from 3 yards out, but they failed to convert the 2-point conversion and the Dragons maintained a 21-16 lead.
The Dragons’ offense stalled on their next drive, but kicker Chandler Schlutow connected on a 44-yard field goal to boost their lead to 24-16.
The Dragons’ defense then came up with a big play when senior lineman Todd Brown recovered a Fitzgerald fumble. The offense capitalized on the turnover, Shirreffs connecting with wide receiver Dalton Hill on 44-yard pass play down to the 3-yard line.
Three plays later, Williams rushed in for his second touchdown, giving the Dragons a 31-16 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Gaulden responded for Fitzgerald, taking just one play to run 52 yards for a touchdown. Stewart pounded in the 2-point conversion to cut Jefferson’s lead to 31-24 with 10:51 left.
With 8:04 left to play, Swain broke loose for his second touchdown of the game to tie the game at 31-31.
After forcing Jefferson to give the ball back on downs, Fitzgerald marched downfield for a potential game-winning field goal, but the Dragons’ defense blocked the kick, forcing overtime.
Jackson rushed for 31 yards and one touchdown. He also had three receptions for 49 yards and the game-tying touchdown in the third overtime.
Williams finished with 45 yards rushing and two touchdowns. His only catch was the game-winning two point conversion.
Tight end Hatfield caught four passes for 35 yards and one touchdown. Hill came up with two big catches for 73 yards. Both catches set up touchdowns for Jefferson.
Fitzgerald’s Stewart and Swain combined for 275 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns.
Gaulden also rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns.
JEFFERSON — After last week’s triple-overtime victory over Fitzgerald, Jefferson head coach T McFerrin worried about an emotional letdown Friday night against Greater Atlanta Christian.
He didn’t need to worry at all.
The Dragons defeated Greater Atlanta Christian 42-14, Friday night at Memorial Stadium in the Class AA state semifinal.
The Dragons (13-1) will play defending state champion Calhoun, a winner over Lamar County on Friday, at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 15 at the Georgia Dome for the state championship.
Calhoun eliminated Jefferson last year from the playoffs.
“I didn’t talk about Calhoun. I didn’t talk about Lamar County. I just said ‘To get to the Dome, we got to win this game tonight. I want you to get to the Dome. I want you to have the Dome experience," McFerrin said. “I can’t be prouder. Our defense made (big) plays.”
The Dragons’ defense did make some big plays, including one fourth-and-goal, goal-line stand in the fourth quarter, and another fourth-and-8 later in the fourth quarter.
They also had three sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery.
“We knew they were a great team, great offense,” Jefferson senior linebacker Wesley Simonton said. “They can hit big plays at any time. We knew we could execute. We knew we could stop them, and that’s exactly what we did.”
Simonton had 1.5 of the Dragons’ three sacks.
The Dragons’ defense was complemented well by the offense, which went on a 28-0 scoring run from the second quarter through the end of the game.
Senior quarterback Bryant Shirreffs led the offense, going 10 of 13 passing for 135 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’m kind of in disbelief right now. Great game, emotional, best game so far. I’m super excited,” Shirreffs said. “We got it done. The defensive stands were incredible. It’s just amazing. The chance to play in the Dome is (just) incredible.
“I’m looking forward to it so much. Me and my teammates ... the bonds we’ve created will last for life, for sure. It’s just awesome.”
Junior running back Tristen Jackson rushed 73 yards on 16 carries and one touchdown.
“It means a lot,” Jackson said. “We set goals for ourselves, and we’re reaching them. We’ve overcome everything that people said we couldn’t do. We can get revenge from last year because (Calhoun) put us out of the playoffs.”
Junior running back Isaiah Blake also had a big night, but through the air. He caught four passes from Shirreffs for 69 yards and one touchdown.
Tight end Donnie Hatfield also caught four passes for 56 yards.
The Dragons’ offense began its first possession from its own 36-yard line. Six plays later, Shirreffs connected with Chandler Thompson for a 10-yard touchdown, but the extra point was missed with 8:19 left in the first quarter.
GAC responded behind the running of senior running back Kyle Scales, who galloped into the end zone on 15-yard run and the Spartans led 7-6.
Jefferson sophomore running back Sammy Williams catapulted the Dragons to the lead on the next drive, rushing in a on 2-yard score. Shirreffs ran in the 2-point conversion to give the Dragons a 14-7 lead with 1:05 left in the first quarter.
The Spartans’ offense responded 44 seconds later. Junior quarterback Rafe Chapple connected with senior wide receiver Peter Whiteneck on a 79-yard touchdown catch. The game was tied at 14-14 going into the second quarter.
The second quarter was all Dragons.
With 9:57 left in the second, Jefferson defensive back Tradd Porter recovered a Spartans’ fumble.
Less than two minutes later, Shirreffs outran the Spartans’ defense on a 53-yard touchdown run to give the Dragons a 21-14 lead they wouldn’t surrender.
On the Dragons’ next drive, Shirreffs connected with Blake on two big catches. The first was a third-and-10 that went for 36 yards. The other was a 20-yard touchdown strike that gave the Dragons a 27-14 lead at halftime.
Junior defensive back Austin Mixon intercepted Chapple at the end of the half. The second half was much like the second quarter — dominated by the Dragons. The Dragons’ offense put together a 16-play drive that lasted 8:51 to start the second half.
The result was a Shirreffs’ 5-yard touchdown run.
Jackson scored his touchdown with 2:17 left in the fourth quarter.
“I feel like the game changed in the second quarter,” GAC coach Tim Hardy said. “14-14, we drove the ball and turned it over. They were able to get some separation before half, which was big.
“Hats off to Jefferson, Coach McFerrin, does a great job. He’s a class act. They made the plays tonight and they deserve to win. It doesn’t take away from our season. (Tremendously) proud of our young men, competed all season long with great pride and effort.”
Chapple led the Spartans’ offense with 183 yards through the air and one touchdown. Whiteneck caught four passes for 107 yards and one touchdown.
Scales rushed for 98 yards and one touchdown.
Jefferson ~ Greater Atlanta Christian
JEFFERSON — Greater Atlanta Christian could hardly stop Jefferson’s offense in Friday’s semifinal game, but the Spartans had an even tougher time cracking the Dragons’ defense.
Jefferson’s defense made a momentum-turning goal-line stand against Greater Atlanta Christian early in the fourth quarter and held the Spartans scoreless in the second half en route to a 42-14 victory at Memorial Stadium.
The Dragons’ defense stopped Greater Atlanta Christian on four consecutive plays inside the Jefferson 3-yard line. Sophomore defensive back Trent Sorrells contributed to the stand with a pass deflection on third down.
“I went out there and played hard and did what the defense told us throughout the whole week,” Sorrells said. “We practiced hard and I held up my coverage and got the play.”
Jefferson responded to the big stop with a Tristen Jackson touchdown run on its following drive.
Jackson scored the game-winning touchdown in Jefferson’s overtime victory in the quarterfinals last week. After the exhausting victory, Sorrels said he and his teammates had to take a different approach to practice this week.
“We had to relax a little bit because we came off with a huge win last week,” Sorrells said. “But we practiced hard all week on our coverages and watched film on them. We did exactly what our coaches told us to do.”
Senior linebacker and captain Wesley Simonton also said that this week’s practices were slightly less intense than usual. Jefferson’s marathon victory over Fitzgerald in three overtimes led to practices with less contact in the following days.
“We had to take it easy in practice … no hits at all,” Simonton said. “We barely even had pads on Monday, and it’s been a walk through basically all this week because we were beat up, and we knew we had to be fresh for this game.”
Simonton credited his teammates for their efforts on the goal line stand. Simonton did not make a solo tackle on the series, but he said his teammates played together as a unit in order to make those plays.
“That’s just people stepping up. That’s called having heart, and that’s what we had was heart,” Simonton said. “We had our backs against the wall and we definitely stood our ground. We needed people to step up and we sure did get that.”
Greater Atlanta Christian’s Micah Abernathy replaced starting running back Kyle Scales, who left the game in the third quarter. Scales accounted for 96 of the Spartans’ 136 rushing yards.
Junior defensive back Hanon Price accounted for the first tackle on the goal line stand. Price stopped Abernathy for a two-yard loss to spark the Dragons’ defensive success.
“That was the game changer,” Price said. “Me and Tradd Porter came up and made the tackle, but the defense just played outstanding. They played their guts out like we always do.”
Jefferson coach T. McFerrin said his team’s defense improved greatly throughout the course of the game. McFerrin said that he did have some concerns about his defense after the Spartans’ quick touchdown strike early in the game.
“After the game started and they hit that big wheel route on us I said, ‘Oh my gosh it’s going to be another 51-50 game,’” McFerrin said. “Then they played great and got the stop. That may have won the game for us.”
McFerrin said he is always impressed with his team’s effort on both sides of the ball. He said he was especially impressed with his defense tonight, which he said has lacked a physical size advantage in each of its playoff matchups.
“We’re undersized and we’re outweighed every time we get out on the field and they just play their hearts out and play their guts out,” McFerrin said. “I couldn’t be any prouder of them.”
Jefferson coaches headed to familiar place in Georgia Dome
Jefferson coaches headed to familiar place in Georgia Dome
In 1995, T. McFerrin issued an order to his Elbert County Blue Devils football players during the Class AA state semifinal game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
“Do not look at the scoreboard. Don’t look at the replays.”
McFerrin, who has also coached in state final games in 1969 (with Lithonia), 1982 (with Peacthree), will return to the Dome on Saturday — this time as Jefferson’s coach in the Class AA state finals against Calhoun — and he’ll have three assistants along who have undergone the Dome experience, including a former player from that state champion Elbert County team.
Linebackers coach Sid Smith, tight ends coach Billy Brunson and defensive ends coach Nate Webster have all been to the Dome before, either as a player or a coach. They all retain special recollections about their encounters and have imparted pearls of wisdom to the Dragons about playing under the bright lights in the big city.
“In those days the semifinals were in the Dome and I remember everything about it,” said Smith, who was a senior linebacker at Elbert County in 1995. “The week of practice, one of the things Coach T. was telling was us, ‘When you go in the Dome, do not look at the scoreboard. Don’t look at the replays.’ But just the whole experience of going to the Dome, where the Falcons play and the house that Deion Sanders built, was an atmosphere I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Burris was a sophomore tight end at Thomson in 2002 when the Bulldogs — under the legendary coach Luther Welch — defeated Shaw 27-10, setting up their state championship victory the next week over Thomas County Central. Though primarily used as a special-teams player against Shaw, Brunson remembers the stadium’s rather unfriendly surface.
“It had been a while since Thomson had been to the semifinals and it was the first time Thomson had ever been to the Dome,” said Brunson, now in his second year on McFerrin’s staff. “It was very exciting and great for the community. We had a big showing at the Dome and we played on the old AstroTurf they had in there then. I remember thinking it was like concrete with sandpaper on top. I don’t know how those NFL guys played on that every week, every season.”
Webster was an assistant at Roswell in 2003 when the Hornets faced East Coweta in their season opener as part of the Corky Kell Classic, which began at the Georgia Dome some 20 years ago. He said he has enjoyed reminiscing about the experience, but puts Saturday’s game in a different context.
“With the Corky Kell it’s the big schools — that can draw a big crowd — that are invited,” said Webster, who has coached at Jefferson for seven years. “It’s great when these small schools get to go there, especially in a town like this. If there’s a poster child for small community going to a game like that, this is it. It’s great and everybody is so excited about it. … Here at home, we get some big crowds and it’s loud, but to go there and see that kind of atmosphere is great. I can’t wait for them to experience it. They’ll never forget it.”
When asked what Dome-centric counsel they had shared with the players during the week, Smith, Brunson and Webster all offered
“We haven’t said anything about the scoreboard yet, but kids will be kids and they’re going to look,” said Smith, who coached at Calhoun Falls (S.C.) and Elbert County before coming to Jefferson. “One piece of advice I will give them is that being in the Dome is going to be a different experience than playing at home or playing in a normal high school facility. They need to block that out of their minds and go out there and play football.”
“We’re trying to remind them that it’s still just a football game – the field is still 100 yards,” said Brunson, who worked as a team manager for the Georgia football team in the late 1990s. “You soak the bright lights and playing in the Dome in pregame and that’s fine, but when it’s time to kick it off, it’s just another game. We’re telling them not to make it bigger than it is, because it’s a football game and we know how to win football games.”
Burris added – with a smile – that he will continue to sell “just another game” to the team to remind himself to keep in check.
“We know what we’re capable of, so we’re reminding them not to get caught up in the scoreboard, the replays, the bright lights and how big the stadium is. It’s blocking and tackling, just like it’s been all year long. I’m telling myself the same thing. I have to convince myself about what I’m telling the players about not getting too jacked up. It’s the same thing we’ve been doing all year. When I tell them that, it helps me to convince myself.”
Webster says he knows each member of the team will always have the once-in-a-lifetime memory of having been there, but he’s telling the team that merely going to the Dome is not enough.
“I hope they enjoy it and soak it all in, but I don’t want to be too star-struck and just be happy to be down there,” he said. “I told them that as long as we’re down there and we’re all dressed up, we might as well go ahead and win. It’s a great thing for Jefferson.”
JEFFERSON -- Jefferson football coach T McFerrin knows a good quarterback when he sees one. After all, he coached former Georgia standout David Greene while at South Gwinnett.
Greene is among a handful of great quarterbacks McFerrin, who began his coaching career in 1968 at Lithonia, has coached along the way. Chris Welton, who went on to play for Georgia in the 1970’s, and more recently Darius Minor in 2009 at Jefferson are others that came to mind during a conversation Tuesday as the Dragons prepared for their first state title game since 1977 against defending Class AA state champion Calhoun at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.
So as McFerrin has watched the maturation of current Dragons signal-caller Bryant Shirreffs over the last three seasons, what is his assessment of the tall, cagey senior that took over as a sophomore with the graduation of Minor?
“Well, you really can’t compare (Greene and Bryant),” McFerrin said. ”David was more of a pure drop-back passer while Bryant is more of a dual threat. But both have a lot of heart and the desire to do whatever they need to do to win. Darius was more like Bryant with his ability to run. But Bryant is a better passer than Darius was. Bryant is definitely one of the best I’ve ever coached.”
Jefferson's MARCH TO THE DOME.
For the season Shirreffs has amassed some huge numbers. He has 2,181 yards and 17 touchdowns passing and 1,233 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing. His passing yards are slightly more than Greene’s as a senior but with two more games played.
If not for Deshaun Watson at Gainesville, Shirreffs numbers would be good enough to be the standard-bearer for north Georgia quarterbacks.
“The Gainesville kid is great. I would think Bryant is among the best around. He may not have the numbers that the Gainesville kid has but he does so many little things that don’t show up in stats but get you wins,” McFerrin said.
Still,with Shirreffs at the helm, it is the most prolific offense in Jefferson history averaging just under 39 points a game. That surpasses the previous best of 36.7 points a game by the Minor-led 2009 team.
The Dragons also are on a streak of 11 straight games of scoring 31 points or more, the longest such streak in team history. In comparison, the 1977 state runner-up team scored 13 points or less seven times and was shut out twice. That team was defensive-minded allowing just 121 total points (8.0 ppg) with five shutouts and held 12 opponents to 14 points or less.
But McFerrin said it’s more than just numbers.
“They believe in him and feel when he’s out there he will make things happen,” McFerrin said. “He’s had a remarkable season so far.”
No matter what happens on Saturday, Shirreffs has already cemented his place in Jefferson lore. He guided the Dragons to a huge upset over then-Class AAA-ranked North Hall, which advanced to the semifinals, on the road early in the season and then helped direct a 31-0 destruction of a Class AA ranked Washington-Wilkes team that was a the early favorite in Region 8-AA.
But he may have taken on legendary status after engineering a remarkable 53-51 triple-overtime win over Fitzgerald in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs. He had two TD passes and two rushing touchdowns and answered every Fitzgerald score in the overtime.
“One of the most incredible games and performances I’ve ever seen in all my years of coaching,” McFerrin said. “He just kept making plays and even helped spark our defense when he had to go in for an injured player for one play.”
Fellow senior teammate Wesley Simonton said Shirreffs has earned his wings as the leader of the team.
JEFFERSON — Wesley Simonton started thinking about the possibility the day after the Jefferson Dragons held off Fitzgerald 53-51 in triple overtime to earn a trip to the state semifinals.
“After we beat Fitzgerald I was sitting at home Saturday thinking, we’re in the final four,” the Dragons senior linebacker said. “We win this and we’re in the (Georgia) Dome.”
Jefferson coach T McFerrin is quick to point out that there was no overlooking semifinal opponent Greater Atlanta Christian, but that quarterfinal win was, nonetheless, another of the games that have defined the Dragons’ most successful season since last reaching the state finals in 1977. The Dragons cruised past Greater Atlanta Christian 42-14 to earn that state title game berth Simonton so eagerly desired.
Jefferson faces Calhoun in the Class AA state championship game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
It’s a season that has included another standout year from senior, dual-threat quarterback Bryant Shirreffs (1,233 yards rushing, 2,181 passing) leading a balanced offense, and another year of dominance by a defense, led by Simonton, that has allowed nine opponents to 10 points or less.
It’s also a season that began with a crushing defeat to Jackson County rival Commerce.
“I think it shocked everybody,” McFerrin said. “These players had always beaten Commerce.
“I think it woke the players up.”
At the next practice Simonton said the players got together and vowed to not let the 22-7 loss be the theme of the season.
“Ever since that we’ve been clicking,” he said.
Simonton, who has a team-high 181 tackles, and the rest of the defense has played a large roll in the 13-game winning streak.
The Dragons turned around after the Commerce loss and held another county rival, Jackson County High, to just six points, and rallied in the fourth quarter past North Hall at The Brickyard, an eventual semifinal team in Class AAA, 27-21.
The win over the Trojans was another of the victories McFerrin points to as a key.
“That was a huge win for us,” he said. “It gave us confidence and took away most of the sting from the Commerce loss.”
Two games after that, the Dragons shut out expected region title contenders Washington-Wilkes 31-0, an outcome McFerrin said made the team realize that winning the region was a distinct possibility. It was also another signature game for the defense, and the lone shutout in a season of solid play.
“It’s been a team effort,” McFerrin said.
In the end, Jefferson didn’t play a team that didn’t failed to reach the postseason until the seventh game of the season, defeating teams at all ends of the spectrum by wide margins.
It wasn’t until the third round of the playoffs that Jefferson was finally tested again, but by surviving the triple-overtime thriller, the Dragons saw just what they stood to accomplish.
“I said, ‘I want you to have the Dome experience,” McFerrin remembered telling the players before their semifinal game, “and to do that we’ve got to win this game.’
“I told them it’s an experience they’ll never forget.”
The Dragons went out and crushed Greater Atlanta Christian with the defense recording three sacks, two turnovers and a pair of key fourth down stops.
It was those stops that Simonton wanted to see out of the defense.
“That’s what great defenses do,” he said. “When they get backed up against the wall they step up.”
Simonton, who McFerrin said is a little undersized for a linebacker at 6-foot, 205-pounds, also leads the team with 7 1/2 sacks and 26 tackles for loss. He’s part of a linebacker tandem, along with Kody McDonald (166 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and four sacks), that has led the way for a defensive unit that has thrived playing tough, assignment football.
“The only reason we’ve been successful is that players stick to their assignments and our willingness to hit,” Simonton said. “It’s all about being disciplined.”
He added that, to play with Class AA defending state champions Calhoun (14-0) on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in Atlanta, the Dragons will have to stick with what’s got them this far.
“This team has stayed focused,” added McFerrin, who last played in the state finals in 1995 with Elbert County.
“They’re a great group of overachievers.”
JEFFERSON — Jefferson’s defense could hardly rank among the state’s biggest.
And Dragons coach T. McFerrin said he wouldn’t put his defense on a list of the state’s fastest, either.
But as one of only two Class AA teams remaining, the Dragons’ defense certainly can lay claim to being one of the best.
“I wish we had great players who were 250, 260 pounds or who could run fast, but we don’t have them,” McFerrin said. “But we coach what we’ve got, and it makes you appreciate them a whole lot more when you see them overachieve like they have this year.”
The Dragons (13-1) head into today’s 2:30 p.m. state championship game at the Georgia Dome — their first title-game appearance since 1977 — against Calhoun (14-0) allowing an average of 13 points a game and with a pair of regular-season shutouts to its credit.
In the playoffs alone, Jefferson has held three of the four teams it has faced to 14 or fewer points, and a 53-51 quarterfinal victory over Fitzgerald allowed the Purple Hurricane to pad the score with three overtimes, all of which included touchdowns.
While the Dragons have a chance to end the season at the top of the pack and as one of the state’s most dominant units, the season didn’t begin with many bright spots.
Returning starting defensive end Tyler Cole was lost for the year after suffering an injury in the first full-pads practice of the season, the Dragons had to replace every starter in the secondary, and Jefferson suffered a 22-7 defeat against Commerce in the season opener, marking the first time the Dragons had fallen to their biggest and oldest rival in five years.
It was a serious wake-up call for a team that felt it was capable of much more.
“After playing Commerce, we realized what could happen if we didn’t believe in each other and have each other’s back,” Jefferson senior lineman Connor Paul said. “It made us realize we could be beat. We had to start believing in ourselves.”
The pieces began to fall in place for Jefferson’s defense, and with every win, confidence boiled over. The Dragons held Jackson County to six points the next week, made a game-winning, goal-line stand against eventual Class AAA semifinalist North Hall, routed Greene County a week later and blanked Washington-Wilkes to improve to 4-1.
“North Hall was the definitely turning point for us, and then we shut out Washington-Wilkes, which people say had a great offense, and it really showed we didn’t have to be afraid of anybody,” Jefferson senior linebacker Kody McDonald said. “We started treating everybody the same and taking them down like we always do.”
It only got better for the Dragons as they blazed through their Region 8-AA schedule, earning the regular-season crown with more victories over Rabun County, Oglethorpe County, Social Circle, Riverside Military Academy and Union County while allowing a combined 31 points through the second half of the regular season.
“I think you can just attribute all of that to the fact that our defensive guys just play extremely hard,” Jefferson defensive line coach Bob Gurley said. “I think they understand they aren’t the biggest or fastest, but they overcame that with hard work. I’ve been amazed at some of the things they’ve been able to do.”
Jefferson’s offense has been regaled for its big numbers — quarterback Bryant Shirreffs has 2,181 passing yards and 1,233 yards on the ground to go with a combined 35 touchdowns — but the defense’s numbers are equally impressive. Linebacker Wesley Simonton leads the way with 181 tackles (108 solo), 26 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, McDonald has 166 tackles (104 solo), defensive back Tradd Porter has 104 tackles (71 solo) and linebacker Tay Stevens has six sacks.
The Dragons’ toughest test will likely come today against Calhoun. The reigning state champion — and also a team that has been to five title games in a row — averages 45 points per game and has been held to fewer than 35 points twice. Four times this season the Yellow Jackets have scored 50 or more points.
But the Dragons have already proven they are always up for a new challenge, McFerrin said.
“From week to week, our guys have gone out and played with everyone, whether people thought they could or not,” McFerrin said. “They did it every week and keep finding ways to hang on and improve.”
Jefferson - Calhoun
Jefferson 31, Calhoun 14
J — Tristen Jackson 1 run (Chandler Schlutow kick)
C — Logan Walraven 17 pass from Taylor Lamb (Jonah Gallman kick)
J — Bryant Shirreffs 3 run (Schlutow kick)
J — Shirreffs 1 run (Schlutow kick)
C — Tydus Curtis 75 pass from Lamb (Gallman kick)
J — Shirreffs 1 run (Schlutow kick)
J — Schlutow 36 FG
Bryant Shirreffs ran 139 yards up the field Saturday, but seemingly 500-plus if you counted scrambling.
Repeatedly turning apparent losses into key gains, Jefferson’s senior quarterback proved slippery for defending champion Calhoun, running for three short touchdowns as Jefferson won its first Class AA championship, 31-14, at the Georgia Dome.
“He was winded after the first quarter,” Jefferson coach T. McFerrin said.
But after catching his breath and accepting the championship trophy with teammates on the field, Shirreffs acknowledged, “I’m going to be tired in the morning, but this is the best way to end my senior season.”
Though Jefferson was underdog against Calhoun, Shirreffs said he had an uncanny sense beforehand. Apparently knowing the Chinese calendar, he noted this being the Year of the Dragon and an ideal title chance for the Jefferson Dragons who reached championship games in 1975 and ‘77.
“I don’t know what it was, but I had a feeling in my heart we would win,” he said. “… Funny things have happened (this year).”
Surprising Calhoun (14-1) in the Yellow Jackets’ fifth consecutive state championship game culminated a season that started inauspiciously for Jefferson (14-1). The Dragons lost their season opener 22-7 to rival Commerce, and even after winning 13 straight, faced daunting odds against a Jackets team that had won 29 straight since losing the 2010 final.
The Dragons scored on three of four possessions in the first half and led 21-7 by intermission, and after letting the Jackets within a touchdown, pulled away with Shirreffs’ third score and Chandler Schlutow’s 36-yard field goal.
Calhoun coach Hal Lamb said he was heartened once within 21-14 on Carter Edwards’ third-quarter interception and Taylor Lamb’s 75-yard touchdown completion to Tydus Curtis a snap later, but Shirreffs continued to elude.
“He made big plays all game,” Lamb said. “We had several people on him, but just missed tackles.”
Jefferson went up 7-0 on Tristen Jackson’s 1-yard run mid way through the first quarter, but Calhoun tied with Taylor Lamb’s 17-yard scoring pass to Logan Walraven with 29 seconds left in the period. The Dragons gained their halftime advantage on Shirreff’s 3- and 1-yard runs and stayed far ahead in overcoming Taylor Lamb’s 279 yards passing.
McFerrin, who coached Elbert County to a championship in 1995, considered Saturday’s win in his fourth year at Jefferson one of his biggest in 300-plus over 38 seasons as a head coach.
“We’ve been underdogs all year,” he said. “We’re not all that big or all that fast, but we’ve gotten a lot better to win a game like this.
“We’ve got guys who played their guts out,” he added. “They wanted to win and thought they could.”
Coach T. McFerrin wins second state title . . .
ATLANTA — The Jefferson High football team knocked off the top team in Class AA to earn the program’s first state championship Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
The Dragons defeated top-ranked and defending champions Calhoun 31-14 behind three rushing touchdowns and 310 total yards by quarterback Bryant Shirreffs and a dominant performance by the defense, which held the high-powered Yellow Jackets’ offense to its lowest point total of the season.
It was the second state championship for legendary Jefferson coach T McFerrin, who led Elbert County to the 1995 state title and later came out of retirement to coach at Jefferson.
“This never crossed my mind when I came out of retirement because it never happened at Jefferson,” McFerrin said. “I am speechless right now. All of Jefferson must have been here. I couldn’t believe the crowd we had.”
Jefferson struck first in the game with a short touchdown run by junior running back Tristen Jackson. Calhoun came back with some fire of its own after taking the kickoff return back to the 50-yard line. However, the Jefferson defense brought Calhoun to a standstill and two penalties continued to push them farther away from the end zone. Jefferson’s Trent Sorrells sacked Calhoun’s Taylor Lamb, a play that made Jefferson fans go crazy and sent Calhoun back to the sidelines.
Later, Shirreffs, an Ivy League prospect, notched the second touchdown of the night with a leap in the end zone as Calhoun defenders began to swarm in.
More trouble ensued for Calhoun on 2nd and 20 as they were called for illegal substitution and the Dragons took over from there. Jefferson had a blunder or two of its own but made up for it when Shirreffs aired a deep ball out to Chandler Thompson who made the big grab. The play put the Dragons in the Yellow Jackets’ territory and Jefferson scored its third rushing touchdown of the night. Jefferson held onto a 21-7 lead at the break.
Calhoun didn’t come out of the half rusty, but an offsides penalty forced them to punt earlier than expected. Yet the Dragons faced some early second half problems of their own and couldn’t move the ball down the field.
On third and 10 with no where to run and a receiver to find, Shirreffs teamed up with McKay Dickens to extend Jefferson’s drive. However, Shirreffs aired out a very daring throw between a couple of Calhoun defenders and the Yellow Jackets seized the ball in midair. Just one play later, the Yellow Jackets trimmed their deficit to seven.
Calhoun had the momentum on its side for just a minute or two before Jefferson’s Micah Carpenter intercepted Lamb’s pass and nearly took it to the house. Shirreffs ended the drive with a short run to pay dirt and later Chandler Schlutow added a field goal that gave Jefferson a 31-14 lead at the top of the fourth. The Dragons continued to hold off Calhoun until the clock struck zero.
The Dragons were able to run a variety of different schemes in the game including the triple option. Having a multitude of options through the air and on the ground made the Jefferson offense difficult for Calhoun to defend.
“That’s a credit to the coaching and the offensive line,” Shirreffs said.
Schlutow bruised his neck in the game against Fitzgerald High and said at the time that he was uncertain whether or not he would return this season.
“It meant everything (to play in this game). I love all of these guys,” Schlutow said.
Dragon seniors come through . . .
ATLANTA -- It’s been generations in the making. Yet, took just moments to finally accomplish.
The most unlikely group of seniors helped erase 65-years of frustration Saturday night at the Georgia Dome, propelling Jefferson to a stunning 31-14 victory over defending champion Calhoun to win the Class AA state championship.
The Dragons (14-1) were huge underdogs against the Yellow Jackets (14-1) who had dispatched them last year in the first round of the playoffs, and were making their fifth consecutive trip to the title game.
“We had the bad start against Commerce and we really weren’t sure what to expect but this group (of seniors) took the challenge of leading the rest of the guys and they have just been playing lights out ever since,” Jefferson coach T McFerrin said.
The win over Calhoun capped a magical season for the Dragons, who had not played for a title since the 1977 Class B championship. They finished with a 14-game winning streak, which coincidentally ended the Jackets’ 29-game win streak, the longest in the state until Saturday, and brought home the school’s first-ever football championship. It’s the second state title for McFerrin, who won the Class AA title in 1995 with Elbert County.
“The whole town has been excited about this and we really wanted to win this for everyone,” senior quarterback Bryant Shirreffs said. “Honestly, I had a good feeling we could win this game. I know not many outside of our fans thought we could, but we had confidence all week.
“It’s just an incredible feeling. All the guys in this locker room will be able to share this and are going to be friends forever. It’s really just hard to put into words how I feel right now.”
Shirreffs has been the catalyst all season and nothing changed against Calhoun. He accounted for 63 yards on an opening-game scoring drive that set the tone for the rest of the game. He had two big passes to McKay Dickens and two first down runs of 12 yards each.
“After that we knew we could move the ball,” McFerrin said. “That really got us going and settled everyone down. Bryant was outstanding the entire game.”
The Dragons scored on their first two possessions and eventually would take a 21-7 lead into halftime.
Shirreffs finished with 141 yards and three touchdowns rushing and threw for another 178 yards. But he said it was the play of the defense that was the key to bringing home the trophy.
The defense forced two huge Calhoun turnovers and held the Jackets to 30 points below their season average.
“You have to credit to our defense,” Shirreffs said. “To hold that team to just 14 points is amazing. They played outstanding and really gave the offense confidence that we could get things done.”
All 14 of Calhoun’s points came after Jefferson turnovers and the Jackets had just two drives over eight plays the entire game. The two scoring drives lasted a combined total of 45 seconds.
The first Calhoun scoring drive was just 16 yards long and their second score came on a 75-yard bomb on the first play following a rare Shirreffs interception to cut the Jefferson lead to 21-14 midway through the third quarter.
“I said, ‘uh oh’ after that play,” McFerrin said. “You could feel the momentum changing. You never expect to hold down a great offensive team the whole game so I was little worried right there.”
It looked even worse four plays later when the Jackets striped Dickens on a second down pass play to get the ball back. But the Dragons defense changed the game, and their history, on the next play.
Sophomore cornerback Micah Carpenter corralled a tipped pass and returned it to the Calhoun 16 on the next play, setting up a 1-yard Shirreffs TD run three plays later to push the lead to 28-14.
“That was probably the biggest play of the game,” McFerrin said. “That gave us the ball deep in their territory and gave us back the momentum.”
Fans behind the Dragons . . .
ATLANTA — Jefferson’s journey to the Georgia Dome started with an impromptu parade as the busses left town.
Next week, the Dragons will need to schedule an official victory procession as Jefferson dumped Calhoun 31-14 in the Class AA state championship game on Saturday at the Georgia Dome. Jefferson not only won its first football title in school history, but it also dethroned the reigning Class AA champions by handing them their first loss of the season in the process.
“I’ll never forget this,” Jefferson receiver McKay Dickens said. “It’s a day I’ll never forget. It’s a season I’ll never forget. This is the best feeling ever. Just coming here was an experience. Our fans had a huge turnout. They were lined all up and down Memorial Drive when we left town. We got to play in the state championship and win it for the first time in (school) history. This is something that’s I’m going to remember forever.”
Jefferson (13-1) scored on its first possession and never trailed. Jefferson held control of the momentum throughout the game. The Dragons took a 21-7 halftime lead and came out of a flurry of turnovers by both sides in the third quarter to lead 28-14 going into the final quarter.
“This is just amazing, I can’t believe it,” Jefferson quarterback Bryant Shirreffs said. “We lost our first game (22-7 to arch-rival Commerce) but we bounced back, I guess. The whole community was behind us. They lined up on Memorial Drive this morning to give us a sendoff. It was just crazy to feel all that support from our friends and our families. It’s crazy. It’s something you never forget, seeing your whole city cheering you on.”
Shirreffs ran for 140 yards and three touchdowns. He also completed 13 of 18 passes for 171 yards. Tristen Jackson added 96 rushing yards and a touchdown. Chandler Schlutow added a 36-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that all but put the game out of reach.
“This is the best feeling I’ve ever had,” Jackson said. “This is great. It’s incredible. You just can’t describe it. After that Commerce loss, that was the worst feeling we had this year. We didn’t want to lose again. We just kept pushing forward and pushing forward and beating teams and playing hard. Now here we are. We’re state champions.”
Saturday was the second state championship for T. McFerrin in his 38 years as a head coach, with his last four seasons coming at Jefferson. McFerrin has played in four state title games and won his only other previous title at Elbert County in 1995.
“I looked up in the stands and I think there was thousands and thousands of people here just from Jefferson,” McFerrin said. “I think the whole town was here. That’s a great feeling to have that kind of support. That championship in 1995 (Elberton) was a great feeling. But I was starting to think that never would get another one, this is it. But I’ll take this one. This is great.”
Jefferson out-gained Calhoun 253-36 on the ground in the game. Jefferson controlled the momentum as well with 32 first downs against Calhoun. The Yellow Jackets’ were led by quarterback Taylor Lamb completed 26 of 39 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Lamb is the grandson of former Commerce coach Ray Lamb, the son of Mercer coach Bobby Lamb and the nephew of Calhoun coach Hal Lamb.
“Word’s can’t describe this feeling,” Jefferson linebacker Wesley Simonton said. “We really wanted to give this to our town and our coaches and everybody. We’ve dreamed about this since we were little kids.”
Shirreffs ran for two short touchdowns and Jackson added another as the Dragons took a 21-7 halftime advantage. Although Jefferson held the lead and the momentum much of the game, it survived some anxious moments in the third quarter. After Jefferson threw a third-quarter interception, Calhoun immediately scored on a 75-yard pass from Lamb to Tydus Curtis to cut Jefferson’s lead to 21-14 with 5:29 left in the third quarter. Jefferson coughed up the ball again four plays later at the Calhoun 38. But Jefferson immediately got the ball back as Micah Carpenter made an interception and returned the ball to the Calhoun 25-yard line. Three plays later Shirreffs scored his third touchdown of the game on a 1-yard plunge to give the Dragons a 28-14 lead with 2:49 left in the third.
“I was thinking ‘Oh no, I hope this doesn’t snowball,’” McFerrin said of the flurry of turnovers. “But Micah made that interception and that might be the play of the game. That has huge. They could have grabbed the momentum right away from us and maybe take the lead. But that was a big, big play. Our defense did such a great job all night but that play kept things from turning around.”
Jefferson held Calhoun (14-1) to its lowest scoring output of the season with 14 points. Jefferson also held Calhoun to 36 rushing yards, including just eight in the second half. Jefferson’s Isaiah Blake and Carpenter had interceptions.
About the Dragons pasing offense . . .
ATLANTA — Little could get in the way of Jefferson’s offense once it got a sniff of the goal line.
The Dragons punched in four rushing touchdowns from inside the 5-yard line in Saturday’s 31-14 victory over Calhoun.
It was the miles-long haul leading the Dragons to the goal line that presented a bigger challenge against a Calhoun defense that had allowed an average of 14 points per game entering Saturday’s season finale.
But the Dragons showed they could go the distance, too, as quarterback Bryant Shirreffs hit five receivers for a combined 171 yards, converting several key third downs and a fourth-down play that led to Jefferson’s final touchdown.
“It’s like being brothers,” said Jefferson tight end Donnie Hatfield, who finished with four catches for 42 yards. “If you’re a brother, you know what your brother’s going to do. (Shirreffs) trusts us. He knows what we’re going to do, he know that we’ll get to the ball, he knows we’ll catch it and he knows we won’t fumble.”
McKay Dickens led the Jefferson receiving corps with four catches for 58 yards and Chandler Thompson had two catches for 46 yards to account for the bulk of the receiving yards.
All in all, it was not a bad day for Shirrefs, who finished 13-for-18 passing with an interception. Or, at least as he described it, a great day for his receivers.
“I don’t think I threw the ball that well,” Shirreffs said. “But they caught the ball well.”
The Dragons ran a balanced attack beginning with the 14-play, 76-yard opening drive. Shirreffs went 2 for 3 with with passes of 17 and 29 yards to Dickens. The passing picked up when the Dragons needed it to and as the confidence built, Jefferson coach T. McFerrin said.
“The first drive and scoring, they realized we could move the ball on them,” McFerrin said. “That was huge.”
The Dragons used a 6-yard pass to Hatifled to convert on a third down on the Dragons’ third possession of the game, leading to a touchdown three plays later. And they went to the air again on the next drive with Shirreffs connecting for completions of 10, 26 and 15 yards en route to another short rushing touchdown.
The final pass of that drive went to Hatfield, whose catch converted a fourth-and-2 at the Calhoun 21-yard line.
The seeds for Saturday’s, and the season’s, success were planted in the summer, when Shirreffs and his receivers would spend time after each day’s workout running routes and fine-tuning their timing.
“That was really when we got our chemistry,” Thompson said. “That’s when we really got our timing down, just in those 10 or 15 minutes every day throwing and catching.”
Those brief sessions added up as the weeks passed and paid off Saturday when time ticked away and the defense wore down and the Dragons continued spreading the field when they needed to.
“It’s just been all about our consistency,” Hatfield said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s first down or fourth down, we go out there, we execute, we make plays, get first downs and get touchdowns, we win state championships.”
About the Dragons defense . . .
ATLANTA — There was no one more surprised — and happily so — than Jefferson coach T. McFerrin with the defensive performance turned in by the Dragons in Saturday’s 31-14 victory over Calhoun in the Class AA state finals.
The Yellow Jackets came into the Georgia Dome averaging 44.7 points and 422.9 offensive yards per game, but Jefferson (14-1) made those numbers a mere memory, limiting Calhoun (14-1) to 345 offensive yards and 30 points below its average.
“I was thinking we might have to score 35 or 40 points just to have a chance,” said McFerrin, who collected his second state football crown, having led Elbert County to the Class AA championship in 1995.
Aided in no small part by a number of extended possessions by the offense, the Dragons’ defense — which was giving up an average of 13.3 points and 403.6 yards per game — was in bend-don’t-break mode, allowing Calhoun quarterback Taylor Lamb to complete 26 of 39 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns but holding the Yellow Jackets to just 36 rushing yards, including 8 yards in the second half.
“The key was up front,” said defensive back Isaiah Blake, who recorded two tackles, one interception and a pass breakup. “We stopped them up front and they got desperate to pass and we just executed and took them out of their game.”
Both of Calhoun’s touchdowns came on big plays immediately after Jefferson turnovers. Late in the first quarter, Blake coughed up the football at the Dragons’ 29-yard line, and three plays later the Yellow Jackets scored on a 17-yard pass to make the score 14-7. Midway through the third quarter, quarterback Bryant Shirreffs threw an interception that one play later Calhoun turned into a 75-yard touchdown pass that made the score 21-14.
“We let them get some big plays but we came right back out and fixed it and didn’t let them hit anymore,” said linebacker Wesley Simonton, who had two tackles and two pass breakups. “You’re not going to shut a team like that out. Their offense was awesome, and to hold them to 14 points is amazing.”
Although Lamb was able to collect a couple of lengthy completions, he was mostly reduced to throwing bubble passes and screens that Jefferson handled the majority of the time.
Perhaps the biggest defensive play of the game for the Dragons came with about three minutes remaining in the third quarter when Calhoun recovered a Chandler Thompson fumble at its own 38-yard line. On the very next play, Micah Carpenter intercepted a Lamb pass and returned it to the Yellow Jackets’ 16-yard line, setting up the Jefferson score that put the Dragons up by two touchdowns at 28-14.
“It was a curl that just popped into my hands and I was like, ‘Thank you Jesus,’ and I took off,” said Carpenter, who also posted four tackles. “It came at a very big time.”
“Micah Carpenter’s interception was huge after we turned the ball over,” McFerrin said. “We had a great drive going and had that fumble after the catch, and his interception was huge because we were able to go in score after that.”
Blake got an interception of his own with eight minutes remaining in the game, snatching a long pass at the Jefferson 25-yard line on a fourth-and-23 desperation pass from Lamb at the Yellow Jackets’ 33-yard line.
“Isaiah’s interception should have been knocked down. That cost us 50 yards, but I’m not complaining,” McFerrin said.
Although the Dragons — who won the first football championship in school history — often came into game this season undersized, they displayed a will to win that proved to be larger than life.
“All year, every Friday, we walked out on the field against bigger teams that looked down upon us, but we had more heart than anybody,” Carpenter said.
BELOW: An article by Ben Munro of the Jackson Herald
TO THOSE around the state, this might register as a top-notch upset. To those inside the Jefferson locker room, this was a team fulfilling its destiny. The number one team in the state just happened to be standing in the way.
The Dragons (14-1) thumped top-ranked and defending state champ Calhoun 31-14 in the grand Georgia Dome setting Saturday in the Class AA finals to capture the school’s first-ever state championship.
“We have a saying, ‘we believe,’” Jefferson linebacker Wesley Simonton said. “I think we do believe that we can win. Every time we get to step onto the field, we know that we’re going to win. We have that confidence that we are going to win.”
True to that creed, Jefferson built a 21-7 halftime lead and never relinquished its stranglehold on this game in dethroning the Yellow Jackets (14-1), who carried a 29-game winning streak into this contest and were making their fifth-consecutive finals appearance.
Perhaps the prevailing thought prior to the game was that Calhoun would continue its dominance in the state. Not so fast, said Jefferson.
“We’ve been the underdogs so many times, it doesn’t phase us,” Simonton said. “I don’t think we get the respect that we really do deserve. Hopefully, after that performance (we will). I mean, you just don’t keep on getting lucky, you don’t just keep on beating good teams. Obviously, we’re a good team and that’s why we won the state championship.”
Jefferson coach T. McFerrin agreed that his team dominated the game.
“I like that word,” said McFerrin, who came out of retirement in 2009 to take over the Dragon program. “Isn’t that amazing? They average 44 points a game and the defense held them to 14. And they’ve been giving up eight points a game, I think, and we scored 31. You can call it that (dominating) if you want. You’ve got my permission. I like that word.”
Dragon quarterback Bryant Shirreffs ran for 120 yards and three touchdowns while also throwing for 188 yards on 14-of-18 passing as Jefferson won its 14th-straight game. Tristen Jackson also topped the century mark, running for 101 yards and a touchdown.
Make no mistake, this team came to win, according to Shirreffs.
“I knew we were going to win,” Shirreffs said. “I think everybody knew we were going to win. We put that in our brains the whole week, and the fact that we did it was awesome.”
The Dragons iced the game with a 36-yard field goal from Chandler Schlutow early in the fourth quarter — which put Jefferson ahead by three possessions — and then an interception from Isaiah Blake with 8:19 left in the game.
“We knew coming in here that we had every ability to beat this team,” Jefferson receiver McKay Dickens said. “They were ranked no. 1 and hadn’t lost a game all year and we came out here and we did it.”
With the game firmly in hand, the Jefferson student section broke out the “state champs” chant with about a minute half left. When the clock ran out, Jefferson players and coaches joined in a celebration that not only culminated a 15-week season of success but the journey of the program to get to this point.
“Amazing is all I can say,” Dickens said. “Just amazing. We’ve worked hard from back in the spring. It obviously paid off.”
Despite some momentum swings, the Dragons — blown out 39-6 last year by Calhoun in the playoffs — pretty much stayed in control of the game from the opening kickoff.
Jefferson set the tone immediately with a 74-yard, 5:24 drive capped off by a one-yard touchdown from Jackson to take 7-0 lead. Calhoun tied the game with 29 seconds left in the first quarter when quarterback Taylor Lamb threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Logan Walraven. That score was set-up by the Yellow Jacket defense, which forced a fumble on the Jefferson 29.
But, as they did all night (and all year), the Dragons responded.
Shirreffs directed a 10-play 70-yard drive and scored from three yards out with an acrobatic leap into the end zone to put Jefferson up 14-7. The Dragons then closed the first half with an 86-yard drive that ended with a one-yard score from Shirreffs.
Perhaps the most crucial sequence of the game unfolded mid-way through the third quarter. Looking to build on its 14-point lead, Jefferson instead turned the ball over when Calhoun’s Carter Edwards picked off a pass at the Yellow Jacket 25.
One play later, Lamb connected with standout receiver Tydus Curtis on a 75-yard touchdown strike to trim the Jefferson lead to 21-14 with 5:29 left in the third quarter.
On their next possession, the Dragons turned the ball over again — this time via fumble — on the Calhoun 37, giving the Yellow Jackets the ball and the momentum.
The moment was short-lived though.
Jefferson’s Micah Carpenter intercepted Lamb on the very next play and retuned the ball to the Calhoun 16. Three plays later, Shirreffs bounded off a pair of Yellow Jacket tacklers and into the end zone for a one-yard score to up the lead to 28-14 with 2:44 left in the third quarter.
Schlutow, who went 4-for-4 on PATs, gave Jefferson a commanding 17-point lead when he nailed his 36-yard field goal at the 10:12 mark in the fourth quarter.
“The field goal was huge,” McFerrin said. “That made it a three-score game.”
Blake all but made the win official with his interception at the Dragon 25.
When it was over, Jefferson players hoisted McFerrin, now a two-time state champion, onto their shoulders and carried the legendary coach to mid-field. McFerrin and several Dragon seniors then took the podium for television interviews and the trophy presentation. The rest of the players soaked in the atmosphere on the field and later on around the locker room.
“This community, they deserve it — every bit of it,” McDonald said. “I’m just glad we can give back to it. They’ve been great supporting us. They’ve come to so many games. We’ve had a huge crowd. They’ve just really lifted us.”
McDonald also recalled a guarantee he made during media/picture day back in August that Jefferson would win the state title.
“I keep my word, don’t I?” McDonald said.
McFerrin said he’s been proud of several teams at many schools during his 38-year run as a head coach, “but I’ve never been any prouder,” he said.
“This is something special.”
And now, a new chapter has been written in Jefferson football history.
“Just like that Brantley Gilbert song said, ‘it’d be a miracle if we won a state championship,’” Simonton said, referring to the lyric by the Jefferson alum and current country music star. “He’s going to have to change it now.”
Footnote to the 2012 season
The Atlanta Constitution rated the Jefferson-Fitzgerald game as the second best play-off game on the 2012 post-season.
2. AA quarterfinals: Jefferson 53, Fitzgerald 51 (3 OT)
If you’re going to win your school’s first state title after many decades of trying, you’re going to need a little good fortune along the way. It looked like the Dragons might not have that when they gave up a 31-16 fourth-quarter lead to go to overtime. But when the defense turned back Fitzgerald’s 2-point attempt in the third overtime, the offense made the most of its chance, getting into the end zone and then Tristen Jackson ended it with the final two-point score.
1. AAAA second round: Marist 43, Carrollton 37 (5 OT)
This one looked like it might never end. After a tight, back-and-forth first four quarters, the teams just continued to trade blows time after time in extra time. Touchdowns, field goals, 2-point conversions … whatever one team put on the board, the other was up to the task of matching it. Finally, though, the Marist defense stood tall, holding Carrollton out of the end zone after a 15-yard Myles Willis touchdown that proved to be the game winner.
BRYANT SHERRIFFS NORTHEAST GEORGIA BACK OF THE YEAR
JEFFERSON — Bryant Shirreffs walked off the field after Jefferson’s first game worrying about what else could go wrong.
But he bounded off of the field after Jefferson’s last game wondering if anything else could feel that good.
Shirreffs became the cornerstone for Jefferson’s offense as it won the first state football championship in school history. Shirreffs, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound quarterback, ran 23 times for 139 yards with three touchdowns. He also completed 14 of 18 passes for 188 yards as the Dragons beat defending champion Calhoun 31-14 in the Class AA title game.
“It’s really kind of surreal,” Shirreffs said. “Just the whole journey has been pretty awesome. I’m definitely going to remember the special games we had, like Fitzgerald (53-51 three-overtime quarterfinal win), North Hall (27-21 win) and Calhoun. There were a couple of runs I had this season that showed all the hard work I put in during the offseason to work on my speed paid off.”
Shirreffs completed 178 of 267 passes for 2,404 yards with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2012. He also ran 179 times for 1,383 yards and 21 touchdowns, earning Athens Banner-Herald All-Northeast Georgia Football Player of the Year honors.
“I think it’s fairly obvious what Bryant meant to us this season; he meant the world,” Jefferson coach T. McFerrin said. “He was fantastic. He was incredible. It’s almost like he put the team on his shoulders and just carried us. We never would have done this without him.”
Jefferson’s championship journey started with a 22-7 loss to arch-rival Commerce in the first game of the season. Since Shirreffs was the quarterback, he needed to take the lead in putting the pieces back together and getting back on track for a deep playoff run.
“We definitely needed a reality check at the beginning of the year,” Shirreffs said. “We pretty much dominated Morgan County in our scrimmage and we were feeling a little bit too good about ourselves. We got complacent. We had a young team that needed to learn from experience. The loss to Commerce was terrible at the time. But it ended up being really good for us. The feeling of losing that game scared us. We didn’t want to lose anymore.”
Jefferson didn’t lose again. It beat Class AAA’s North Hall when the Dragons’ defense made a stop as time expired. It beat Fitzgerald in a three-overtime playoff thriller even though Jefferson lost its kicker to injury just before overtime. But the biggest thrill was winning the state championship against Calhoun.
“We got back to work and decided that we were going to look forward and not back,” Shirreffs said. “That North Hall game was the turning point of the season. We upset North Hall and then we found out that something special could happen. We just kept playing well. I can’t even describe the Fitzgerald game. It’s definitely the best game of the season. It’s the best game I’ve ever been a part of. After that game we could look ahead to the (Georgia) Dome and look ahead at what we could do in the playoffs.”
The championship game against Calhoun produced some redemption for the Dragons. Calhoun beat Jefferson 39-6 in the first round of the 2011 playoffs en route to the Yellow Jackets’ state championship.
“We needed a little revenge,” Shirreffs said. “They ran up the score on us last year. We actually played tough with them last year and moved the ball really well. But we only scored once. We felt pretty confident going into the game. Of all the weird things that happened this season, personally I knew we were going to win the game. I think our whole team knew we were going to win.”
Shirreffs has started at quarterback for three seasons but much of his production came through the air with 645 combined rushing yards as a sophomore and junior. Going into his senior year, Shirreffs improved on his running and became a true dual threat.
“When he found out he could run the football, it just added another dimension to the offense,” McFerrin said. “That meant the defense had to keep somebody as a spy back there. They had couldn’t rush so hard because he could scramble so well. Some of his best runs were behind the line of scrimmage just getting away from people. He’d elude the rush and either make something out of nothing or throw the ball down the field and hit an open receiver on a broken play. He did that all year long, in fact he’s done it for three years for us.”
Shirreffs finished his Jefferson career with staggering numbers in three seasons. He completed 397 of 625 passes (64 percent) with 52 touchdowns. He also ran for 2,028 yards and 38 touchdowns. He accounted for 7,677 yards and 90 touchdowns rushing and receiving in three seasons.
“I’ve never had a quarterback who had the numbers he had both rushing and passing,” McFerrin said. “I’ve had running quarterbacks and I’ve had passing quarterbacks. But I’ve never had one that combined the two like him and put up the numbers like him.”
Shirreffs has his eye on playing in the Ivy League after he graduates from Jefferson. He has also attracted interest from Navy and some mild interest from Georgia Tech. He has scheduled a campus visit at Yale next month. McFerrin believes he will get attention from bigger schools after his performance in the state-title game. But Shirreffs intends to go somewhere he can get a good education and not just play football.
“I’m not sure where I want to go yet,” Shirreffs said. “I’m not making any decisions until after I take my visits. But I’m definitely going for academics first. That’s the most important thing. You never know what’s going happen. Everybody wants to go to a big D-I program. But look at what D-I players are doing 10 years after they play. Getting the degree is most important.”
T. McFerrin Northeast Georgia Coach of the Year
For the Jefferson Dragons, the turning point of their first state championship season in 66 years of playing football arrived in mid-September and basically came down to four yards.
After a deeply disappointing season-opening loss to rival Commerce and a victory the next week over Jackson County, Jefferson’s biggest test awaited against North Hall at the Brickyard in Gainesville.
The wild game saw Jefferson score the game-winning touchdown after a successful onside kick. The Dragons’ defense allowed North Hall to march back down the field but held firm at its own 4-yard line to post a 27-21 upset victory over the Trojans, who finished ranked No. 4 in Class AAA and whose only losses came against state champions Jefferson and Buford and state runner-up St. Pius X.
“We hadn’t started region play yet, but we gained a lot of confidence for our game against Washington-Wilkes by beating North Hall,” Jefferson coach T. McFerrin said. “The North Hall game ended with them having the ball on our (4-yard line). That gave our guys confidence they could play with anybody.”
From that point, Jefferson went on to claim 12 consecutive victories — winning by an average of 30 points each week — and ended the season on Dec. 15 in triumph with a 31-17 victory over Calhoun at the Georgia Dome to claim the Class AA crown.
For McFerrin, the championship was the second of his 38-year career; he led Elbert County to the Class AA title in 1995 and had two other teams advance to the state finals. For his team’s achievement this season, McFerrin is the Athens Banner-Herald’s All-Northeast Georgia Football Coach of the Year.
The veteran coach said winning a state title is sweet but this year’s title run was even more extraordinary because Jefferson came into the season unheralded.
“This season is at the top of my list,” he said. “It’s right up there with the state championship at Elbert County, but it’s a different kind of feeling because the year (Elbert County) won it, we were ranked No. 1 in the preseason. We lost to Washington-Wilkes during the season and then beat them in the state finals, which was beyond description, but it was a different kind of special.
“This year, we basically came from nowhere — we probably weren’t even in the top 20 in the preseason, if there was such a thing. Nobody expected us to go all the way, which makes this one so special when it’s a bunch of guys that do something they’re not supposed to.”
Jefferson first appeared in the Associated Press’ Georgia High School Football poll after the fifth game of the season, coming in at No. 9, and climbed as high as No. 7 in the final regular-season poll.
A push by the team’s leadership made all the difference in the season’s outcome, said McFerrin and senior linebacker Wesley Simonton, who along with quarterback Bryant Shirreffs were the team’s captains and on-field generals. The trio also claimed the Associated Press’ Class AA Offensive Player, Defensive Player and Coach of the Year honors on Tuesday.
“Ever since Coach McFerrin came here, he’s wanted to see leadership — not just from the seniors, but also from the juniors, sophomores and even freshmen,” said Simonton, who led the Dragons defense with 189 tackles, 7½ sacks, 26 tackles for loss and two caused fumbles. “He established that when he got here, and every year it’s been building and building, and finally I think everybody caught on to it. The leadership has been tremendous from everybody. That’s how we won a state championship — because of leadership.”
Added McFerrin: “The thing that saved us was we started to get great senior leadership, especially from Bryant Shirreffs and Wesley Simonton. Wesley was a lot more vocal, but both led in their own way. This was the best leadership of any group I’ve had at Jefferson. There was an amazing team chemistry and camaraderie. I called them overachievers all season long, but I don’t call them that anymore — now I call them champions.”
McFerrin is also a leader among his peers in the coaching business. He has coached seven teams to the state semifinals, five teams to the semifinals and four teams to the championship game, a state record. He’s also the 14th coach in Georgia history to win state titles at two different schools and the first since 2003.
Posting a 39-9 record in four seasons at Jefferson with a 23-5 mark in region play, McFerrin’s all-time coaching record weighs in at 340-101-4 (which includes a 24-17 record in Tennessee), which ranks him fourth in state history behind Lincoln County’s Larry Campbell (470 victories), Robert Davis of Warner Robins (352) and Mary Person’s Dan Pitts (346).
“It’s very humbling and I’m certainly proud to be included with a great group of coaches,” he said. “There are so many coaches who have done so much in this state, and to be No. 4 on the all-time list means I’m in some special company.”
Another measure of McFerrin’s influence and longevity are his former assistant coaches who are making an impact on the game. This season, four former aides who are now head coaches — Mark Crews of Brookwood, Mickey Conn of Grayson, John Small of South Gwinnett and Shannon Jarvis of Mill Creek — all reached the postseason.
McFerrin also knows he doesn’t operate in a vacuum, and as is many times the case for successful people, he doesn’t mind passing around the credit. He was especially thankful for offensive coordinator Ben Hall and defensive coordinator Tom Parker, but said the Jefferson community had a huge hand in this championship season.
“I’m also very appreciative of my assistants this season,” he said. “And our fan support was unbelievable — the send-off they gave us on Saturday morning, lining the streets of town, was amazing. It all goes back to the players, the assistants, the administration and the community – it’s not a one-man thing. We all did it together.”
Wesley Simonton named Northeast Georgia Defensive Player of the Year
Wesley Simonton, Jefferson, Sr., 6-1, 215
Led Jefferson with 189 total tackles, 7 1/2 sacks and 27 tackles for loss as the Dragons won their first state title in school history.
McDonald also named to All-Northeast Georgia team
Kody McDonald, Jefferson, Sr., 5-11, 165
Was second on Jefferson with 173 total tackles. Also made four sacks and 14 tackles for loss for the Class AA state champions.
All-Northeast Georgia Place-kicker
Jefferson, Sr., 5-10, 155
Made 62 extra points and hit four field goals, all in excess of 29 yards including a 35-yarder in the state-title victory.
Anthony named to All-Northeast Georgia First Team
Collin Anthony, Jefferson,
Sr., 6-2, 215
The only returning starter on the Dragons’ line and helped the Class 2A state champions average 408.1 yards a game.
Jefferson Players named to SECOND TEAM All-Northeast Georgia
Running back: Tristen Jackson, Jefferson, Junior, 5-8, 205.
Defensive line: Tyler Bowen, Jefferson, Junior, 6-0, 207.
Defensive back: Micah Carpenter, Jefferson, Sophomore, 5-10, 180.
Tight ends: Donnie Hatfield, Jefferson
Offensive line: Eli Griffin, Jefferson, Jordan Tyler, Jefferson.
Linebackers: Trent Sorrells, Jefferson.
The Jefferson football team finishes the year ranked atop more than just the final standings.
The Dragons, fresh off their first state championship, swept Class AA’s top honors in the Georgia Sportswriters Association All-State voting with quarterback Bryant Shirreffs selected Offensive Player of the Year, linebacker Wesley Simonton selected Defensive Player of the Year and T. McFerrin selected Coach of the Year.
Jefferson senior linebacker Kody McDonald joined Simonton and Shirreffs as a first-team selection.
Atlanta Journal/Constitution Class AA All-State Team
Offensive player of the year: Bryant Shirreffs, Jefferson
Defensive player of the year: Wesley Simonton, Jefferson
Coach of the year: T. McFerrin, Jefferson
QB – Taylor Lamb, Calhoun, 6-1, 190, Sr.
RB – Juan Foster, Vidalia, 5-7, 170, Sr.
RB – Jeremy Johnson, Screven County, 5-10, 270, Sr.
WR – Tydus Curtis, Calhoun, 5-9, 170, Jr.
WR – Deric Herring, Brooks County, 5-11, 180, Jr.
WR – Peter Whiteneck, Greater Atlanta Christian, 6-0, 180, Sr.
OL – Andy Dodd, Pepperell, 6-4, 320, Sr.
OL – Jake Edwards, Heard County, 6-4, 270, Jr.
OL – Alex Hackney, Washington-Wilkes, 6-0, 220, Sr.
OL – Zeb Locke, Taylor County, 6-0, 220, Sr.
OL – Brett Steverson, Fitzgerald, 6-5, 308, Sr.
ATH/QB – Bryant Shirreffs, Jefferson, 6-3, 220, Sr.
PK – Harrison Butker, Westminster, 6-4, 175, Sr.
DL – D’Vontae Bedford, McIntosh County Academy, 6-1, 260, Jr.
DL – Connor Beytagh, Benedictine, 6-1, 260, Sr.
DL – Matthew Foster, Cook, 6-4, 220, Sr.
DL – Tomond Hampton, Toombs County, 6-4, 245, Sr.
LB – John Coletti, Lovett, 6-2, 215, Sr.
LB – Duranta Dunson, Heard County, 5-10, 175, So.
LB – Nic McBride, Vidalia, 6-3, 215, Sr.
LB – Wesley Simonton, Jefferson, 6-1, 205, Sr.
DB – Lawrence Austin, Lamar County, 5-10, 175, Jr.
DB – Grant Haley, Lovett, 5-10, 172, Jr.
DB – Qua Searcy, Lamar County, 6-0, 165, Jr.
DB – Dame Turner, Manchester, 6-0, 180, Sr.
P – Ross Wood, Greater Atlanta Christian, 6-0, 170, Jr.
QB Davion Anderson, Northeast, Jr.; QB Will Anderson, Wesleyan, Jr.; QB/DB Lance Austin, Lamar County, Jr.; QB Willie Candler, Lovett, So.; QB Rafe Chapple, Greater Atlanta Christian, Jr.; QB Malcolm Parrish, Brooks County, Jr.; QB Ross Pickle, Cook, Sr.; QB Buck Robinson, Washington-Wilkes, Sr.; QB Tavon Ross, Bleckley County, Jr.; QB Matt Thrift, Bacon County, Sr.; QB Jacori Taylor, Early County, Sr.; RB Devonte Bass, Berrien, Sr.; RB Josh Berry, Long County, Sr.; RB Kyle Scales, Greater Atlanta Christian, Sr.; RB Alex Urbano, Calhoun, Jr.; WR Josh Barnes, Calhoun, Sr.; WR Jahmai Jones, Wesleyan, So.; WR Rikeem Stallings, Greene County, Sr.; OL Katrova Dew, Calhoun, Jr.; OL Paul Sloan, McIntosh County Academy, Sr.; DL Luther Jones, Union County, Jr.; LB Brakari Isom, Early County, Sr.; LB Kody McDonald, Jefferson, Sr.; LB Trey Evans, Lamar County, Sr.; DB D.J. Smith, Fitzgerald, Sr.
JEFFERSON PROMOTES HALL TO HEAD FOOTBALL COACH
Jefferson didn't have to look far to find a new football coach to replace the recently retired T. McFerrin.
The Jefferson City Schools Board of Education on Thursday evening unanimously approved the recommendation of Superintendent John Jackson to appoint Ben Hall as the Dragons' new head coach.
Hall, who has served as offensive coordinator for the Dragons for the last four years, was recommended for the job by McFerrin, who last recently retired after leading Jefferson to its first state football championship in school history last month.
"I'm excited about this opportunity," Hall said Friday morning. "This is a great school and a great community, and we've got a solid football program. And right now, we've got some momentum and it's up to us to keep the program going."
Jefferson principal Kevin Smith said he received a number of inquiries about the opening and added he, Jackson and Jefferson athletic director Tim Corbett decided to stay close to home when considering McFerrin's successor.
"The first consideration was to look from within to see if anyone is qualified and interested in the position," Smith said. "I had not had any extensive talks with Coach Hall, but when Coach McFerrin decided to retire, Coach Hall expressed interest in the position and Coach McFerrin highly recommended him.
"He's been instrumental in getting our program to where it is now, and sometimes your best candidate is right there before you. Before we opened this up to look outside — and I'd received some emails and inquiries when the word got out from some very quality coaches — we just felt we had the best person already on staff and wanted to give him the opportunity."
"It's an honor to be recommended by Coach McFerrin," said Hall, an Alabama native. "He's a one-of-a-kind coach and he'll be an incredibly hard act to follow. It's been a great experience to coach under him for the last four years. He's made me a better coach and an even better person."
This will be Hall's first head coaching job. He came to Jefferson from Flowery Branch four years ago, was an all-state lineman at Franklin County in 1994 and played college football at Furman, where he also served as a graduate assistant and assistant coach for five years.
"Ben is very deserving of this opportunity," Smith said. "He's been with us four years as our offensive coordinator and he's done a great job. The staff and the players think very highly of him and they respond well to him and he's been integral to our recent success."
Hall's father, Bill Hall, is a veteran football coach and served as head coach at Rabun County from 1983-1986 and also coached at Franklin County, Union County and Manchester, among other schools.
McFerrin said when he was searching for an offensive line coach when he took the job at Jefferson four years ago, Hall was one of the few candidates he interviewed.
"I did some extensive research and talked to a lot of fellow coaches, and Ben's name was one of a couple that kept popping up," said McFerrin. "After I talked with Ben, I decided to go with him. Our philosophies were very close, and I thought he'd be a great fit here. He's done an outstanding job as our offensive line coach and offensive coordinator and I think he'll do an outstanding job as a head coach. When he told me he was interested in the job, I recommended him."
Smith added that he didn't think there would be any change in the Dragons' coaching staff.
"We don't anticipate any changes, and we don't expect any," Smith said. "We're hoping for a pretty seamless transition and we think our staff will stay intact, which is great because it's a quality staff and its success speaks for itself."
"Continuity is very important, especially in transition," added Hall. "It will benefit us and the players if we can keep the same staff. The offensive coordinator position is to be determined, but I anticipate continuing in that role. But if we find a good candidate for the job, that could change."
The Dragons won the Class AA state championship in December, defeating Calhoun 31-14 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. In the last four seasons under McFerrin, Jefferson has gone 39-9 and won Region 8-AA titles in 2009 and 2012.
Hall's wife, Diana, teaches in the Gwinnett County School System and the couple has three children — Mason, 4, Anna Claire, 2, and Burton, who was born on Nov. 19, a few days after Jefferson defeated Kendrick in the first round of the Class AA playoffs.
"It's been a special year for us," Hall said.
Jefferson has had 17 coaches in its football program’s history, dating back to 1947. Ben Hall is the 18th to take the reins of the program. Here’s a look at how the last five coaches have fared:
T. McFerrin went 39-9 from 2009 to 2012, including the program’s first state title in 2012.
Bill Navas went 52-30-1 from 2002 to 2008.
Bob Gurley went 27-26 from 1997 to 2001.
Jere Parker spent one season at the helm in 1996, going 1-9.
Mark Wilson went 28-13 from 1992 to 1995.
I I I I PHOTOS I I