It’s been a season for the Dragons to savor, one they might be savoring a little bit more in a rather unconventional year.
Jefferson, 13-0 for the first time in school history, has reached the state semifinals for only the fifth time and has done so during a year marred with uncertainty with an ongoing pandemic.
“It’s forced coaches, as well as players, to learn and live life lessons about being in the moment and being where your feet are and being mindful,” Jefferson coach Gene Cathcart said. “Those are all things I think that this year has taught us.”
The Dragons (13-0) will face Benedictine (9-2) Friday (Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m.) in Savannah in the Class AAAA state semifinals. The winner will play either Bainbridge or Marist Dec. 29 at 3:30 p.m. at Center Parc Stadium (Atlanta) for the state title.
Though the season has reached the semifinals, the pandemic left some questions over the summer about the fate high school football in the state in 2020. The schedule was delayed state-wide for two weeks and a litany of cancellations were reported throughout the year once games started. Yet, Jefferson has fielded a team each week (two opponents experiencing issues with COVID-19 forfeited) and the results have largely been lopsided. Only three of the Dragons’ games have been decided by less than 30 points
Ranked No. 2 in Class AAAA all year, Jefferson cruised to a second-straight region title and now finds itself preparing for a Game 14 with a chance to play for a state title.
“It makes it very rewarding,” Cathcart said. “Probably more so than a typical year because the opponents aren’t just on the field. The opponents are all around us. They (the players) have navigated those waters very, very well.”
No. 1-seeded Jefferson will now embark on a long road trip as its run through the playoff bracket continues. Savannah’s Memorial Stadium is a 4.5-hour trek from Jefferson High School. Benedictine, also a No. 1 seed, earned hosting rights resulting from the GHSA’s universal coin flip.
“The thing that our kids will have to do is understand that most of the travel aspects are mental,” Cathcart said. “Once you get there, it’s four quarters for a chance to go on a trip to play for the ‘ship.”
This marks the longest road trip for the program since a near five-hour journey to Cairo in 2016 for the quarterfinals. The Dragons ventured to Crisp County (Cordele) — just over three hours away — last year where they lost in the quarterfinals.
“You’ve got to be mentally tough to win road playoff games,” Cathcart said. “Any team left at this point has shown a great deal of mental toughness this year.”
And Cathcart said this group — which is riding the second-longest winning streak in program history — “is almost always ready to play.”
“It’s just a fun group to be around and fun group to come to work everyday and work with,” Cathcart said. “I’m excited. They’re writing an awfully good legacy. I know what they’re made of, and I very much look forward to going Friday night with them.”