The region title was not won Friday, but Jefferson would appear to have an impressive lead after the first lap.
In a battle of the two top-10 teams in Region 8-AAAA on a rainy night, the No. 2-ranked Dragons (5-0) routed No. 6-ranked Flowery Branch 40-10 in a region opener that ended up more lopsided than expected.
“We’re not quite dotting all our I’s and crossing our T’s,” said Jefferson coach Gene Cathcart, who collected his 140th coaching win. “We’re playing very well. I don’t want to sound like a poor-mouth, typical coach, because obviously that’s a very fine football team we were fortunate to beat tonight. But we’ve got to do a better job (on) the little self-inflicted wounds.”
Cathcart, however, added: “It was a good win. It was a good team win.”
Quarterback Malaki Starks ran for 131 yards on 14 carries and scored three touchdowns on another prolific night for the five-star prospect. Kolton Jones added 57 yards on nine carries, while Reese Johnson ran for 55 yards on 11 attempts with a touchdown.
The dominant performance included a third-quarter field goal block from Nick Evans that was returned by Kam Robinson 70 yards for a touchdown.
Carter Stephenson also scored, running in from five yards out late in the fourth quarter for the Dragons’ final points of the night.
Jefferson’s defense limited Flowery Branch’s high-powered passing offense, which was averaging 323 yards per game, to just 166 passing yards and 24 points below the Falcons’ season average.
Offensively, Jefferson rolled up 310 yards rushing and didn’t attempt a pass in the 30-point win. The Dragons punted just once. The only times the Dragons didn’t reach the end zone, they essentially stopped themselves. One non-scoring drive stalled due to penalties — including one that negated a 68-yard touchdown run from Kolton Jones. The other ended with a fumble at the Flowery Branch 4-yard line after the ball came loose from Starks after pushing forward for extra yards.
Flowery Branch, coached by former Jefferson coach Ben Hall, started out well enough, driving 52 yards to set up a 39-yard field goal from Maddux Trujillo with just under six minutes left in the first quarter. But the Falcons didn’t score again until the 8:42 mark in the fourth quarter. The Dragons scored 33 points in between.
Starks scored on runs of nine and three yards in the first half to give the Dragons a 12-3 lead. Jefferson's defense then produced a goal-line stop as time expired in the first half — tackling quarterback David Renard on the 1-yard line — to preserve the lead.
"I was extremely proud of our defense," Cathcart said. "That was huge at the end of the first half ... that could have been a huge momentum turn in the game. And then knowing we get the ball to start the third quarter, that was a big boost for us."
Starks scored from two yards out to cap Jefferson’s opening drive in the second half, followed by a two-point conversion from Jones. Evans’ field goal block and Robinson’s score pushed the lead to 26-3 midway through the third quarter.
Johnson scored on a 15-yard run up the middle just over a minute into the fourth quarter to move the score to 33-3.
Miles Ivey, who ran for 127 yards on 28 carries, provided Flowery Branch’s only touchdown with a five yard run with 7:54 left in the contest.
Stephenson scored on his 5-yard run with just 1:58 remaining as Jefferson reached the 40-point mark for the third time this season.
The victory essentially puts the Dragons two games ahead of Flowery Branch in the region standings. Jefferson would own the head-to-head advantage should the teams be tied at the end of the season.
"This buys us a little bit of tie-breaking cushion if it is us and Flowery Branch," said Cathcart when about the significance of the win. "Certainly, there's North Oconee, there's Cedar Shoals, there's so many others, Madison County, there's so many others out there that are great programs.
"So, it's way early to be talking about it, but when you have the two ranked ones playing, I guess, it's impossible not to talk about it. I was proud of how we responded with something on the line."
Jefferson was scheduled to play East Hall next week (Oct. 16) but the Vikings were forced to cancel that game due to COVID-19 exposure protocol.