Jefferson Dragons advance to championship game with win over GAC

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Tristen Jackson scores the final touchdown of the game for the Dragons. He rushed for 79 yards on 18 carries.                                      – Photo by Al McLeod

By CHARLES PHELPS, Regional staff 

JEFFERSON — After last week’s triple-overtime victory over Fitzgerald, Jefferson head coach T McFerrin said he was worried about an emotional letdown Friday night against Greater Atlanta Christian. He didn’t need to worry at all.

Last night, the Dragons defeated the Greater Atlanta Christian Spartans 42-14 at Memorial Stadium and will advance to the AA state championships.

The Dragons (13-1) will play the defending state champions Calhoun, a team which Friday night defeated Lamar County, next Saturday afternoon at the Georgia Dome. Calhoun eliminated Jefferson from the playoffs last year.

“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, said McFerrin. “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. 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,” said senior linebacker Wesley Simonton.

Simonton had 1.5 of the Dragons three sacks.

The Dragons’ defense was complemented very 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 for 135 yards with 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. We set goals for ourselves, and we’re reaching them,” saidJackson. “We’ve overcome everything that people said we couldn’t do. We can’t get revenge from last year because (Calhoun) put us out of the playoffs.”

Junior running back Isaiah Blake also had a big night, but his efforts were mainly 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 Spartans received the ball to start the game, but quickly went three-and-out.

Then, Shirreffs and the Dragons’ offense began their first possession from their 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.

The Spartans responded behind the running of senior running back Kyle Scales, who galloped into the end zone on 15-yard run, and the Spartans’ lead was 7-6.

Sammy Williams scored on a 2-yard rush.
- Photo by al McLeod

Jefferson’s sophomore running back Sammy Williams, catapulted the Dragons to the lead on the next drive, rushing in on a 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.

However, 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, Jeffersondefensive back Tradd Porter recovered a Spartans’ fumble. Less than two minutes later, Shirreffs outran the Spartans’ defenders on a 53-yard touchdown run to give the Dragons a 21-14 lead, that would be a 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 and the other was a 20-yard touchdown strike that gave the Dragons a 27-14 lead at halftime.

Junior defensive back Austin Mixon intercepted a Chapple throw at the end of the half.

The second half was much like the second quarter with the Dragons dominating. The Dragons’ offense put together a 16-play drive that lasted 8:51 to start the second half.

The result was a 5-yard touchdown run by Shirreffs.

Jacksonscored his touchdown with 2:17 left in the fourth quarter.

“I feel like the game changed in the second quarter. [At] 14-14, we drove the ball and turned it over. They were able to get some separation before half, which was big,” Greater Atlanta Christian head coach Tim Hardy said. “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. (I am tremendously) proud of our young men, [they] competed all season long with great pride and effort,” said Hardy.

Chapple led the Spartans’ offense with 183 yards through the air and one touchdown. Whiteneck caught four passes for 107 yards and one touchdown and Scales rushed for 98 yards and one touchdown.