The Jefferson football team hopes to make a deep run in the state playoffs but had to tend to business in its own zip code first.
The No. 8 Dragons (8-1, 6-0 Region 8-AAA) intercepted four passes and returned two for touchdowns in a 55-0 win Friday (Nov. 1) over crosstown rival Jackson County at home in their regular-season finale.
“Scoring those defensive touchdowns was obviously big in terms of creating a blowout,” Jefferson coach Gene Cathcart said. “(Jackson County) coach (Rich) McWhorter and his guys are doing a great job. They play very hard. You can tell that they’ve been in the weight room. It was a good matchup in a sense of their strong defensive front against our running game, and I thought we did what we needed to do.”
Jefferson now leads the all-time series with the Panthers 10-0. The 55-point win was the most lopsided victory in the series.
Senior quarterback Colby Clark threw touchdown passes to Jordan Perry and Levin Jones and ran for another, while Kade McNally found the end zone twice in the Dragons’ eighth-straight win. Jefferson topped the 300-yard mark on the ground for the third-straight week, running for 318 yards. Reese Johnson led the team with 74 yards on five carries. The Dragons punted just once.
“I’m proud of our team,” said Clark, who moved to 22-4 as Jefferson’s starting quarterback. “We came into this knowing it was a business trip and wanted to get things done. We just wanted to come in and get better. We didn’t want to back track.”
Meanwhile, the Jefferson defense picked up its second shutout of the year and limited Jackson County, which rotated three quarterbacks, to just 47 yards of total offense and five first downs.
Kadin Bailey and Rem Maxwell both returned interceptions for touchdowns, while Kam Robinson and Hunter Blayton also picked off passes.
The Dragons got rolling with a four-play drive on their first possession, capped with a 14-yard run from Clark. Clark finished with 69 rushing yards on 11 carries.
Jefferson scored even quicker on its second possession, finding the end zone in three plays with Clark hitting Perry out of the backfield for a 15-yard score to increase the lead to 14-0 with 6:23 left in the first quarter. McNally scored the first of his two touchdowns with 11:23 in the second quarter, barreling in from seven yards out at the 11:23 mark to increase the lead to 21-0.
The first pick six of the night came moments later when Bailey intercepted a pass and raced 30 yards for a touchdown with 10:20 left in the second quarter, moving the lead to 28-0.
Later in the second quarter, Kolton Jones slipped out of the backfield and caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from Clark at the 3:11 mark. Jefferson led 34-0.
The Dragons tried to score again in the waning moments of the first half, with Clark firing off three pass completions to set up a 27-yard field goal attempt which was no good. Clark finished an efficient 5-of-7 for 87 passing yards on the night after attempting just three passes total the past two games.
“I was hoping we would do that,” Clark said of putting the ball in the air more, “being that we might need to pull that out in the playoffs.”
Cathcart said the night presented opportunities in the passing game.
“It’s never been a question of him (Clark) not being able to throw the football,” he said. “Because he can flat throw it. It’s been more of kind of trying to take what the defense gives us. As the year’s gone on, we get more and more people (defenders) in the box. It’s one of those things where you’ve just got to take advantage of the numbers, and our guys catch the ball really, really well, and Colby throws it well.”
In the opening possession of the second half, McNally rumbled 37 yards for his second touchdown, increasing the lead to 41-0 with 9:21 left in the third quarter. He finished with 64 yards on six carries.
Maxwell then followed with the second defensive score of the night, picking off a pass and running 43 yards the other way to increase the lead to 48-0 with 5:18 left in the third.
Backup quarterback Carter Stephenson provided the final touchdown of the evening, keeping the ball for an 18-yard touchdown run with 11:30 left in the game.
Cathcart said a running clock in the second half prevented him from getting more players into the game, "but I certainly understand the rule."
As for Jackson County, the Panthers dropped their sixth-straight game. They will close the season next week against rival East Jackson on the road.
Jefferson, which has outscored its competition 128-19 the last three weeks, has next week off to rest up for the playoffs. The Dragons will play the No. 4 seed out of Region 6-AAA.
Cathcart had mixed feels about taking a week off with his team rolling along right now.
“It’s good in a sense that we have a chance to heal up, get some rest, get re-energized,” he said. “But the other thing is you are playing well, so I don’t really know. It’s kind of like calling heads or tails. It’s what we have and, hopefully, we’ll benefit from it.”
Clark said this team has its sights set on a long playoff run and should benefit from some time off.
“It’s always good to have a week off to recover some (injured) guys like Malaki (Starks) or anyone that’s banged up,” he said. “But I think we’re going to make a really deep run in the playoffs. This is a special team. All of us care about each other. We’ve all got each other’s back, and I’m just really looking forward to what we have in front of us.”