ATHENS — Even a substantially banged-up Jefferson team found a way to dominate another region showdown.
Tre Reece scored two touchdowns and came up with a momentum-changing field-goal block to spark a 34-9 Dragon victory at Cedar Shoals Friday (Oct. 8). Jefferson closed with 20 unanswered points to turn a close game into a rout.
Dragon coach Gene Cathcart, who praised Cedar Shoals head coach Leroy Ryals as "one of the best coaches around," expected his short-handed team to get the Jaguars' best shot.
"They gave us their best swing and kind of woke us up, and then we started playing much better football," Cathcart said. "It's good to be in these kind of games — region wins on the road."
The two teams entered the game in a three-way tie with North Oconee for first place in Region 8-AAAA with 2-0 records. Jefferson and North Oconee remain tied for the top spot in the region.
Sophomore standout Sammy Brown, who filled in at quarterback, joined the growing list of wounded Dragons, exiting the game in the second quarter with an injury to his right leg after being sacked. Brown, already a major college prospect, did not return to Friday's game and stood on crutches in the second half. He was scheduled for an MRI on Saturday.
"He'll have (all of) Northeast Georgia pulling for him and praying for him ... He's such a tough kid and a talented kid and does so much for us," Cathcart said.
Other notable Dragons were already unavailable entering the contest.
Five-star prospect and starting quarterback Malaki Starks did not play Friday, while the injured list also included Spencer Neese, Chase Johnson and Bowman Horn.
That his squad had to overcome obstacles in the win did not surprise Cathcart.
"It's three years, so far, without losing a region game and three years with only losing one regular season game, and I think our fans and everybody just kind of expect it to happen ... and you've got all these guys who are injured and some that are still nicked up, and we expect it just to kind of continue," he said. "What happens is that shifts the stress to the folks that sometimes handle some stress to having to handle more stress."
Jefferson (7-0, 3-0 Region 8-AAAA) clung to a 14-9 lead late in the first half when Reece turned the game, charging in from the left side and blocking Michael Hermitano’s 28-yard field goal attempt. Five plays later Max Aldridge threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Jack Eubanks, and Jefferson led 21-9 just 21 seconds before halftime.
Reece then tacked on a 32-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to extend the lead to 28-9. He finished with 92 yards on six carries.
"He's playing outstanding football," Cathcart said.
Fullback Isaiah Copeland capped the night with a 5-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter as the Dragons won their 16th consecutive region game dating back to 2018 and 25th-straight regular-season game since 2019.
"Tonight, we had some guys really step up and handle the stress," Cathcart said. "Some of them are guys who have handled the stress a lot for us, but some of them had to step up and handle a little bit more stress than they're used to.
"That's a great learning experience and a great growth moment for your football team."
Reece began making his impact early.
With Jefferson facing a fourth down on its opening drive, Reece took a sweep 36 yards, cutting back and dodging a defender around the 17-yard line, to score and give Jefferson a 7-0 lead.
Brown, before his injury, scored on an 8-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter to give the Dragons a 14-0 lead.
But things quickly tightened after that.
Cedar Shoals used its passing attack to move down the field and set up a 2-yard score from Tyson Saylors, cutting the lead to 14-6. A 27-yard field goal from Hermitano trimmed the lead to 14-9.
The Jaguars then threatened to take the lead after they recovered a fumble at the 3:48 mark in the second quarter and moved the ball down to the Dragon 4.
But a personal-foul call against Cedar Shoals stalled the drive, forcing the Jaguars into the field-goal attempt that Reece blocked. Fullback Reese Johnson, who led the Dragons with 114 yards on 13 carries, ripped off a 44-yard run two plays later to set up Aldridge’s scoring strike to Eubanks, who slipped behind two Jaguar defenders and snagged the pass.
Cathcart praised Aldridge for working his way back from an injury to be available to play on Friday.
"When Sammy is injured, the fact that Max had put in all that hard work, he's ready tonight," he said. "And we've had some guys that have worked their tails off to get back that will have an open week now to heal up.
"But it was just nice being able to go with one of your leaders on your football team coming in and kind of helping steady the ship at that point."
Jefferson also shored up its defensive effort, allowing just six second-half passing yards despite having a depleted secondary. Cedar Shoals, led by receiver Devin Hester, who is the son of former Chicago Bear and Atlanta Falcon Devin Hester, had 97 yards through the air in the first half.
"Even I, who doesn't get to watch much NFL football, knows who Devin Hester is," Cathcart said. "Devin Hester's son, you would think we'd probably have an awareness of where he is on the football field (with his father) being the greatest kick returner in the history of the NFL ... We did a much better job identifying where he is and where they wanted to take the football in the second half.
"We played good run defense most of the whole night and really shored up our pass defense in the second half."
Jefferson now has an open date next Friday (Oct. 15) before traveling to Chestatee on Oct. 22.
Jefferson 34, Cedar Shoals 9
JHS 14 7 7 6 — 34
CHS 0 9 0 0 — 9
JHS — Reece 37-yard run (Botts PAT), 7-0, 7:07 first quarter
JHS — Brown 8-yard run (Botts PAT), 14-0, 0:55 first quarter
CSHS — Saylors 2-yard run (PAT no good) 14-6, 9:01 second quarter
CHS — Hermitano, 27-yard field goal, 14-9, 4:57 second quarter
JHS — Eubanks 20-yard catch from Aldridge, 21-9, 0:21 second quarter
JHS — Reece 32-yard run (Botts PAT), 28-9, 7:04 third quarter
JHS — Copeland 5-yard run (Botts PAT no good) 34-9, 8:44 fourth quarter
Leading rushers: Jefferson — Reese Johnson 113-114; Tre Reece 6-92; Isaiah Copeland 4-45, Sammy Brown 10-43
Leading passer: Jefferson — Max Aldridge 1-1, 20
Leading receiver: Jefferson — Jack Eubanks 1-20
Leading tacklers: Austin Redmon 9, Justin Beatty 6, Jordan Perry 5