Dragons 21, Tigers 10
Difference maker: Jefferson's Tristen Jackson rushed for 130 of his 139 yards in the second half to help the Dragons pull away.
Stat that matters: Dawson County turned it over five times, four coming at the end of each of their first four drives of the second half.
Turning point: Trailing 14-10 in the third quarter, Dawson County's defense had just held Jefferson out of the end zone inside its own 5-yard line. But on the Tigers' ensuing drive, Drew Carson recovered a fumble at the Dawson County 26. Two plays later, Jackson scored to make it 21-10.
Who's next: Jefferson advances to the Class AA state playoffs as the fourth seed and will play at Calhoun next week. Dawson County's season comes to a close.
DAWSONVILLE — Jefferson jump-started its running game with key halftime adjustments and capitalized on five Dawson County turnovers to beat the Tigers for the second time this season on their home field, 21-10, Friday night.
The Dragons (8-2) advanced to the state playoffs as the fourth seed out of Region 8-AA and will play at Calhoun (No. 1, Region 7-AA) next week. But getting there wasn't wasn't easy.
After manhandling the Tigers 42-14 in early September, Jefferson found a much tougher opponent Friday. The Dragons, who led 35-0 at half of the first meeting, trailed 10-7 at intermission in the rematch.
Dawson County got a short Zack Martin touchdown run and 26-yard field goal from Max Muldoon to grab the lead. The Tigers then used a remarkable goal-line stand at the end of the second quarter to preserve the halftime advantage.
With a minute left in first half, Jefferson had six cracks from inside the Dawson 7-yard line and was aided by two pass interference penalties, but couldn't punch it in before time expired as Dragon quarterback Bryant Shirreffs was trying to spike the ball to kill the clock.
Jefferson's lone score of the first half came on wild play, with linebacker Carson Newman intercepting a Tyler Dominy pass that was broken up by a big hit by Andre Daniel. The ball popped out of the receiver's hands, with Daniel's help, and went right to Newman, who scampered 34 yards for a touchdown.
The Dragons had just 84 offensive yards in the first half; leading rusher Tristen Jackson had only 9.
Martin had 79 in the first half alone for the Tigers.
But the tide turned in the second half.
Jackson scored twice in the third quarter on runs of 3 yards and 1 yard and finished with a game-high 139 yards rushing.
While the Jefferson offense was finding its stride, Dawson County was backfiring. The Tigers' first four drives of the second ended with a turnover. That proved too much to overcome.
"I really felt like we had a chance, but we just made some costly mistakes," said Dawson coach Jeff Lee, whose Tigers finish at 5-5, 4-2 in region play and missed the playoffs for a seventh straight year. "We've worked hard all season and had to overcome a lot early. And we did, and what you saw tonight is an improved product."
Lee also believes the second-half improvement, which saw the Tigers win three straight to reach Friday's play-in game, sets the stage for a promising next season.
Dawson County will return the core of its team, highlighted by Martin, who carried the ball 28 times for 137 yards on Friday, as well as Dominy and leading receiver Bruce Clark.
"(Martin) just kept breaking tackle after tackle," said Dragons coach T. McFerrin, who made sure to shake Martin's hand and congratulate him after the game. "I didn't know he was a junior."
McFerrin is in the playoffs for the 26th time in his illustrious coaching career in Georgia, which dates back to 1968.