By Ben Munro and Erin Rossiter
NO DRAMA this time. Just dominance — and a trip to the Dome.
One week after outlasting Fitzgerald in a three-overtime thriller, Jefferson (13-1) took the more conventional route this Friday at Memorial Stadium, beating Greater Atlanta Christian 42-14 to set up a Class AA finals clash against Calhoun (14-0) in the Georgia Dome Dec. 15.
“We’re playing for a state championship!” said lineman Connor Paul, who hugged safety Tradd Porter in the mob scene of a crowd after the game.
Jefferson players attempted to summarize this latest monumental win, which vaulted the school to its first state title game in 35 years.
“You can’t describe the feeling,” Jefferson linebacker Wesley Simonton said. “This is something when you’re a little kid, you sit there and dream of but it might never happen. We’re just happy we could do it for the community. We haven’t been to the finals in so long.”
Jefferson coach T. McFerrin said he used playing in the Dome as a motivating factor for this game.
“I didn’t talk about Calhoun; I didn’t talk about Lamar County,” McFerrin said. “I just said, to get to the Dome, we’ve got to win this game tonight … I want you to get to the Dome. I want you to have the Dome experience, because it’s something you’ll never forget.”
In Friday’s win, Jefferson built a 27-14 halftime lead over Greater Atlanta Christian and then put a dagger in the Spartans in the second half, piecing together a back-breaking nine-minute touchdown drive to start the third quarter.
“You always say that the most important drives of the game are the first one in the first half and the first one in the second half,” Jefferson offensive lineman Collin Anthony said. “We knew that we had the ball and that we had to come out and dominate the first drive.”
Jefferson then produced a goal line stand on GAC’s next possession to preserve a 35-14 lead and end any Spartan comeback hopes.
“It just proved our defense,” Dragon linebacker Kody McDonald said. “We never give up, no matter the score. We’re going to go hard and we’re going to give it our all every single play, every single down.”
Tristan Jackson put an exclamation point on Jefferson’s 400th win all-time with a five-yard touchdown with 2:17 left, putting the Dragons over the 40-point mark for the sixth time in the last eight weeks. Jefferson scored 28 unanswered points in the win as the defense shutout the Spartans over the final 36:21.
The Dragons were able to put last week’s physically and emotionally draining 53-51 win over Fitzgerald behind them and not only beat GAC, but do it in convincing fashion.
“That was an awesome game,” Jefferson quarterback Bryant Shirreffs said. “Just the stuff we’ve been through this season, it’s amazing making it this far … We’re building memories that’s for sure.”
Shirreffs had another huge night, throwing for 141 yards on 10-of-13 passing and a touchdown and running for 134 yards and two touchdowns, including a 52-yarder in the second quarter that put Jefferson up 21-14. They would not relinquish that lead.
Jefferson finished with 269 yards rushing as the Dragons’ ground attack continues to steamroll opponents. Jackson added 79 yards on the ground and his one score. Sammy Williams had 56 yards on the ground.
Isaiah Blake finished with 62 yards receiving and a 20-yard touchdown reception, which gave Jefferson a 27-14 lead late in the second quarter. It was Blake’s first touchdown grab of the season.
“It feels good — first one of the year,” Blake said. “But it came at the right time.”
Dalton Hill finished with 53 yards receiving, while Chandler Thompson caught a 10-yard touchdown in the first quarter to get the Dragons on the scoreboard first.
Simonton led the Dragons defensively with 14 tackles, one tackle for loss and a sack. Porter also had a huge night with 13 stops and a tackle for loss. Kody McDonald and Hanon Price also had 10 tackles as Jefferson’s defense held the Spartans to a season-low 14 points.
Greater Atlanta Christian’s biggest play of the night came with 21 seconds left in the first quarter when quarterback Rafe Chapple hit a wide-open Peter Whiteneck for a 78-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14. But the Spartans didn’t score a point after that.
“We came into the game knowing that we were going to have to stop them on the ground and passing,” Price said. “And early on we had a blown coverage and that really worried us in the beginning, but then as the game progressed we just kept getting better and better. We came out ready to play. We played our guts out like we always do.”
Now, Jefferson gears up for what promises to be a crazy week at school with the state title game in everyone’s mind. The Dragons are one win away from claiming high school football’s ultimate prize.
“I don’t know how I’m going to sit in my desk at school and sit there and know I’m going to play in the state championship on Saturday,” Simonton said.
Said Anthony: “Finals are coming up, there’s a lot going on. We’ll get through it and I know that everybody in this community is excited about next Saturday.”
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