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Dragons turn up the heat, head to Dome
Jefferson dominates GAC on offense, defense to win 42-14
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Tristan Jackson scores the final touchdown of the night for Jefferson in the Dragons' state semifinal win Friday over Greater Atlanta Christian at Memorial Stadium. - photo by Al McLeod

Dragons 42, Spartans 14

Difference maker: Bryant Shirreffs’ compiled 264 total yards and four touchdowns.

Stats that matter: GAC outpassed Jefferson 183-135, but the Dragons’ rushing attack outgained the Spartans 240-125.

Turning point: Tradd Porter’s fumble recovery with 9:57 left in the first half kick-started the Dragons’ 28-0 scoring run.

Who’s next: Jefferson plays Calhoun on Dec. 15 in the Class AA state final. GAC’s season is over.

JEFFERSON — After last week’s triple-overtime victory over Fitzgerald, Jefferson head coach T McFerrin worried about an emotional letdown Friday night against Greater Atlanta Christian.

He didn’t need to worry at all.

The Dragons defeated Greater Atlanta Christian 42-14, Friday night at Memorial Stadium in the Class AA state semifinal.

The Dragons (13-1) will play defending state champion Calhoun, a winner over Lamar County on Friday, at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 15 at the Georgia Dome for the state championship.

Calhoun eliminated Jefferson last year from the playoffs.

“I didn’t talk about Calhoun. I didn’t talk about Lamar County. I just said ‘To get to the Dome, we got to win this game tonight. I want you to get to the Dome. I want you to have the Dome experience,’” McFerrin said. “I can’t be prouder. Our defense made (big) plays.”

The Dragons’ defense did make some big plays, including one fourth-and-goal, goal-line stand in the fourth quarter, and another fourth-and-8 later in the fourth quarter. 

They also had three sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery.

“We knew they were a great team, great offense,” Jefferson senior linebacker Wesley Simonton said. “They can hit big plays at any time. We knew we could execute. We knew we could stop them, and that’s exactly what we did.”

Simonton had 1.5 of the Dragons’ three sacks.

The Dragons’ defense was complemented well by the offense, which went on a 28-0 scoring run from the second quarter through the end of the game. 

Senior quarterback Bryant Shirreffs led the offense, going 10 of 13 passing for 135 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns.

“I’m kind of in disbelief right now. Great game, emotional, best game so far. I’m super excited,” Shirreffs said. “We got it done. The defensive stands were incredible. It’s just amazing. The chance to play in the Dome is (just) incredible. 

“I’m looking forward to it so much. Me and my teammates ... the bonds we’ve created will last for life, for sure. It’s just awesome.”

Junior running back Tristen Jackson rushed 73 yards on 16 carries and one touchdown.

“It means a lot,” Jackson said. “We set goals for ourselves, and we’re reaching them. We’ve overcome everything that people said we couldn’t do. We can’t get revenge from last year because (Calhoun) put us out of the playoffs.”

Junior running back Isaiah Blake also had a big night, but through the air. He caught four passes from Shirreffs for 69 yards and one touchdown. 

Tight end Donnie Hatfield also caught four passes for 56 yards.

The Dragons’ offense began its first possession from its own 36-yard line. Six plays later, Shirreffs connected with Chandler Thompson for a 10-yard touchdown, but the extra point was missed with 8:19 left in the first quarter.

GAC responded behind the running of senior running back Kyle Scales, who galloped into the end zone on 15-yard run and the Spartans led 7-6.

Jefferson sophomore running back Sammy Williams catapulted the Dragons to the lead on the next drive, rushing in a on 2-yard score. Shirreffs ran in the 2-point conversion to give the Dragons a 14-7 lead with 1:05 left in the first quarter.

The Spartans’ offense responded 44 seconds later. Junior quarterback Rafe Chapple connected with senior wide receiver Peter Whiteneck on a 79-yard touchdown catch. The game was tied at 14-14 going into the second quarter.

The second quarter was all Dragons.

With 9:57 left in the second, Jefferson defensive back Tradd Porter recovered a Spartans’ fumble. Less than two minutes later, Shirreffs outran the Spartans’ defense on a 53-yard touchdown run to give the Dragons a 21-14 lead they wouldn’t surrender.

On the Dragons’ next drive, Shirreffs connected with Blake on two big catches. The first was a third-and-10 that went for 36 yards. The other was a 20-yard touchdown strike that gave the Dragons a 27-14 lead at halftime.

Junior defensive back Austin Mixon intercepted Chapple at the end of the half.

The second half was much like the second quarter — dominated by the Dragons. The Dragons’ offense put together a 16-play drive that lasted 8:51 to start the second half. 

The result was a Shirreffs’ 5-yard touchdown run.

Jackson scored his touchdown with 2:17 left in the fourth quarter. 

“I feel like the game changed in the second quarter,” GAC coach Tim Hardy said. “14-14, we drove the ball and turned it over. They were able to get some separation before half, which was big.

“Hats off to Jefferson, Coach McFerrin, does a great job. He’s a class act. They made the plays tonight and they deserve to win. 

“It doesn’t take away from our season. (Tremendously) proud of our young men, competed all season long with great pride and effort.”

Chapple led the Spartans’ offense with 183 yards through the air and one touchdown. Whiteneck caught four passes for 107 yards and one touchdown.

Scales rushed for 98 yards and one touchdown.

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