If the high-school football adage of “they remember November” is true, then those crucial games now begin in earnest for Jefferson.
The Dragons hope for a deep state playoff run, but a key component of that formula is earning a No. 1 seed with a region title, which Jefferson can secure this week.
The Dragons (8-0, 4-0 Region 8-AAAA) will travel to North Oconee Friday (Nov. 13, 7:30 p.m.) to play for the 8-AAAA championship. Jefferson will vie for its fifth region title in nine years and 10th region title overall.
“Being a region champion and a No. 1 seed is every football team’s goal,” Jefferson coach Gene Cathcart said.
Cathcart said the utility of a No. 1 seed in the state playoffs through earning a team the maximum number of home playoff games is the major spoil of winning a region title. But the trophy is meaningful, too.
“You always want to maximize your team’s legacy and what they leave behind to be remembered for,” Cathcart said.
Against North Oconee, Jefferson will face a program that produced a combined 19-5 record over the last two seasons with second-round playoff appearances and top-10 finishes in Class AAAA in each of those years.
“(Coach) Tyler (Aurandt) has done an incredible job there,” Cathcart said. “Of course, that program has been a good, proud program for a lot of years … It’s not a surprise at all that these two teams are squaring off with championships on the line.”
North Oconee is 4-1 in region play and is just seven points away from an unbeaten mark in 8-AAAA. It’s 4-5 overall, though that record is deceptive with four losses to ranked teams: Oconee Co. (No. 2 in Class AAA), Ola (No. 10 in Class AAAAA), Benedictine (No. 3 Class AAAA) and Flowery Branch (No. 6 in Class AAAA).
The five teams to defeat North Oconee have a combined 31-9 record.
“Just a casual glance at the record is not going to tell you the whole story of a team that has a Clemson quarterback commitment and has seven players returning from last year’s all-region team in this very region,” Cathcart said.
That quarterback is Bubba Chandler, who is both a football and baseball commit to Clemson. The Titans utilize Chandler heavily in the run-pass option game.
“They are very talented, but they also play with incredible effort and intensity,” Cathcart said. “Defensively, they’re well-coached and very sound.”
Cathcart added that the Titans have “great special teams,” especially in the kicking game.
“This is your typical well-coached, talented North Oconee team,” Cathcart said. “They just happened to play almost an NFL pre-region schedule.”
Jefferson enters this game having not played in a competitive situation since the first half of its game with Flowery Branch on Oct. 9. The Dragons led 12-3 at the half of that contest before running away with a 40-10 win.
Since then, the Dragons have had a game canceled, an open date and two blowout wins. So Jefferson’s frontline players haven’t had to play into the second half in over a month. And that’s a concern for the Dragons heading to this game.
“To play at that level of intensity for four quarters, we haven’t had to do that in a while,” Cathcart said.
Jefferson also hasn’t played on the road since that victory over Flowery Branch. Despite limited capacity due to COVID-19 protocol, North Oconee will present a daunting road atmosphere, according to Cathcart, who said the Titans take pride in playing well at home.
“They’ve got a great student spirit section they’re proud of, and even though the capacity will be limited to whatever rules they go by, it will still be a great atmosphere Friday night,” Cathcart said.
Cathcart expects plenty of excitement to surround his team’s penultimate regular season game.
“It’s the reason you play football, to play in those bright-light games that matter,” Cathcart added. “So, it should be a great night for football.”
NOTES: Jefferson finished its junior varsity season at 5-0, capped with a 49-6 win at Hart County last Wednesday (Nov. 4). The Dragons will not play what was supposed to be their season finale against Habersham Central this week after the Raiders were forced to cancel the game.
JEFFERSON 67, CHESTATEE 12
With the Dragons playing on a Thursday (Nov. 5) due to a referee shortage, Malaki Starks, Kolton Jones and Carter Stephenson ran for two touchdowns each, while Jordan Perry had a touchdown rushing and receiving as Jefferson trounced winless Chestatee 67-12. Isaiah Copeland also scored.
Jefferson scored the final 41 points of the game.
Jefferson rushed for 477 yards on just 47 carries and posted a new season-high for points. Kolton Jones ran for 100 yards on five carries, while Starks finished with 67 yards on six carries. Starks completed his only pass of the night, a 36-yard touchdown strike to wide-open Perry for the Dragons’ first score.
Jefferson raced out to a 20-0 lead after a quarter and built a 40-12 lead at the half before outscoring the War Eagles 27-0 in the second half.