All season long, Jefferson has had to silence its critics. It seemed like going 13-1 still wasn’t good enough yet, they ended Calhoun High School’s 29-game win streak in what many thought would be a blowout game by way of the Yellow Jackets; JHS delivered one of their best performances of the season.
JHS was beginning to resemble Marcus Dupree; a highly recruited running back in the early eighties that played collegiate ball at the University of Oklahoma but never lived up to his full potential.
ESPN’s 30 for 30 aired a documentary on Dupree called “The Best that Never Was.” If there’s one thing the Jefferson High School football team had in common with Dupree, it was always being at the top but not long enough to see the best result.
“Everyone’s always thought of Jefferson as the team that couldn’t do anything. They thought we could win a few games but never take it all the way. We’ll show up at every ball game and take down anyone who comes in front of us,” said linebacker Kody McDonald.
“We had a grudge against them. They ran up the score against us [last year] and we were not happy with that. That gave us a boost of energy. [We wanted] to make them feel the same pain they gave us,” McDonald said.
When asked if this was what he came out of retirement for, Head Coach T. McFerrin said, “This never crossed my mind when I came out of retirement because it never happened at Jefferson. I am speechless right now. All of Jefferson must have been here. I couldn’t believe the crowd we had. I can’t say enough about the chemistry of the team. They care about each other. They are brothers and they play hard for each other.”
The Yellow Jackets have made five straight appearances in the state championship game but were not well prepared this time around and suffered a formidable loss against the Dragons.
Jefferson drew first blood with a short touchdown run by junior running back Tristen Jackson. Calhoun came back with some fire of its own after taking the kick-off return back to the 50-yard line. However, the Jefferson defense brought CHS to a standstill and two penalties continued to push them farther away from the end zone. Trent Sorrells achieved a sack on quarterback Taylor Lamb of Calhoun that made Jefferson fans go crazy and sent CHS back to the sidelines.
Later, Shirreffs notched the second touchdown of the night with a courageous leap in the end zone as Calhoun defenders began to swarm in.
More trouble ensued for CHS on 2-and-20 as they were called for illegal substitution and the Dragons took over from there. JHS 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 Jacket’s territory and Jefferson scored its third rushing touchdown of the night. JHS held onto a 21-7 lead at the break.
CHS didn’t come out of the half rusty but an off sides 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, CHS trimmed its deficit to seven. Calhoun had the momentum on its side for just a minute before Micah Carpenter gladly accepted Lamb’s pass and nearly took it to the house.
“Every time we made a play there was a roar. We have some of the best fans in Georgia,” stated McDonald.
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.
Jefferson was able to run a variety of different schemes including the tripe option; having different weapons by air and on the ground (along with a solid crew of running backs) made it difficult for Calhoun to defend.
“That’s a credit to the coaching and the offensive line,” said Shirreffs.
Senior Tyler Cole, who was projected to start at defensive end this season, shed tears of joy as he stood next to his teammates on the podium to hoist the trophy.
“It’s unreal. They told me they were going to [go] all the way,” said Cole.
Cole broke his elbow at the start of the season and was told he would not be able to return.
“Seeing all the fans here is [just] unreal; having the whole town behind us is unbelievable,” Cole said.
Cole is not the only one that went through adversity this year. Schlutow, who has been phenomenal in the kicking game, suffered a scary collision in the third round against Fitzgerald High School. He admitted that after suffering a bruised neck, he was uncertain on whether or not he would return this season.
“I thought I would be done,” Schlutow said. It meant everything [to play in this game]. I love all of these guys. It’s just amazing. No one ever thought we would come this far and we did. Now we are champions. I wouldn’t want to be with any other team,” Schlutow said.
Schlutow has been a one man band in the kicking department all year long and has undeniably played a significant role. Shirreffs said he was glad that Schlutow was able to participate in such a momentous game.
“It felt pretty great. We were all worried for his health in the Fitzgerald game,” Shirreffs said.
“Facing adversity is pretty much the story of our team. When one person goes down another person steps up. We have a team of young and talented leaders,” stated McDonald.
All the hype prior to the game was surrounding Calhoun but Shirreffs put duck tape over the mouths of those who questioned whether or not his team would be able to take down CHS.
“They may be better physically but, mentally and emotionally I think we are better,” Shirreffs stated.