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Jefferson next to challenge top-ranked Lamar County

POSTED: November 29, 2013 12:03 a.m.
Jared Putnam | The Times/

Jefferson running back Sammy Williams (2) runs the ball in a game against Riverside Military Academy on Nov. 1, as two Eagles defenders give chase in Gainesville.

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JEFFERSON — Trailing by three points in the closing minutes of last week’s second-round playoff matchup at Heard County, Jefferson’s defense was able to do something it hadn’t been able to do all game long: Make a stop.

After being thrashed for 463 rushing yards and five touchdowns by Braves running back Duranta Dunson, the Dragon defense finally bowed its neck and forced a Heard County punt, giving the offense a final shot at the end zone.

The end result was an 8-yard touchdown pass from Evan Shirreffs to T.J. Skelton, and a 61-57 Jefferson victory.

“It was a case of neither team being able to stop the other,” Jefferson coach Ben Hall said of last week’s game. “We were able to come up with two big stops when they counted most and our offense came through.”

The 10th-ranked Dragons (10-2) must pass another major test to keep their quest for back-to-back state championships alive, when they visit top-ranked Lamar County (12-0) tonight in the Class AA state quarterfinals in Barnesville.

The focus for Jefferson will once again be on stopping a talented rushing attack. Seniors Lance and Lawrence Austin lead a Lamar County attack that is averaging 296 yards rushing per game and that has eclipsed the 40-point mark 10 times this season. 

It’s a rushing attack under the direction of coach Franklin Stephens, who came to Lamar County after leading Tucker to the Class AAAA state championship and a perfect 15-0 record in 2011.

Lance, the quarterback, has rushed for 853 yards this season with 17 touchdowns. He has also thrown for 745 yards and 10 more scores. Twin brother Lawrence leads the team with 1,195 yards rushing with 18 touchdowns, averaging more than 11 yards per carry.

Senior Quentin Frazer (509 yards, 6 touchdowns) and sophomore Juan Tucker (452 yards, 9 touchdowns) also play key roles in the option-style attack.

“They do a great job at using formations to out leverage defenses and get those athletes to the edge to use their speed,” Hall said of Lamar County’s offense, which gained 496 yards last week in a 38-20 win over Thomasville.

Despite the inability to slow down a rushing attack last week, Hall said Jefferson’s defense still has confidence after posting five shutouts this season.

“I think they’re playing with confidence,” Hall said. “It was just a matchup issue on Friday night. They were big and physical up front. It was just a matter of, not our defense being lined up wrong, they just executed to a T.”

While the Jefferson defense faces a challenge this week, so does its offense.

The Lamar County defense is allowing an average of just 6.75 points per game this year and hasn’t allowed more than 20 points in a single game all season.

Once again, the Austin brothers anchor the unit.

Both are committed to Georgia Tech as defensive backs, along with fellow defensive back Qua Searcy. Together, the three have combined for 10 interceptions this season.

With that much athleticism in the defensive secondary for Lamar County, ball security will be a key for the Dragons, who did not commit a turnover in last week’s win.

“(Ball security) is one of our primary focuses every week,” Hall said. “We have to maintain drives and keep from turning the ball over to them and giving them a short field.”

Skelton and Shirreffs combined to throw for five touchdowns without an interception from the quarterback position in the victory over Heard County last week, as the Dragons racked up 495 yards of total offense.

The duo will continue to split time this week, according to Hall.

The majority of the offensive production last week came on the ground. Skelton added 113 yards rushing with a score, while Tristen Jackson added two more rushing touchdowns on 118 yards, and Isaiah Blake scored two touchdowns on 109 yards rushing.


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