Jefferson High has handled injuries to key players about as well as could be expected.
On Friday, quarterback T.J. Skelton, who has started since Evan Shirreffs went down with a broken finger last month, passed for a pair of touchdowns and 210 yards, while rushing for a long second quarter touchdown as the Dragons beat Riverside Military Academy 62-23 at Maginnis Field in Gainesville.
The win moves Jefferson to 7-2, 5-1 in Region 8-AA and keeps its hopes alive for a No. 2 seed to the playoffs and home game to open the postseason. The Dragons have already secured a playoff berth and wrap up the regular season at Union County (6-3, 4-2) next week in Blairsville.
“Next week will be a huge game for us,” said Skelton, who scored on a 46-yard run during a 35-point second quarter for the Dragons.
The Eagles were led by another impressive showing from senior quarterback Collin Pettell, who threw for 295 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Riverside’s Raleigh Beougher returned a kickoff for a 91-yard touchdown — and had four receptions on the night — as Jefferson took control of the game with five touchdowns in the second quarter.
However, turnovers were critical as the Eagles turned the ball over three times, along with the blocked punt for a Dragons score.
Meanwhile, the loss moves Riverside Military to 4-5, 2-4 and ended any chance of making the postseason. The Eagles wrap up the regular season Nov. 8 at Greene County.
At running back, Jefferson’s Sammy Williams carried 11 times for 82 yards, including a pair of second-quarter touchdowns. Williams and Isaiah Blake (seven carries, 37 yards) picked up more of the carries against Riverside Military as senior Tristen Jackson missed the game with what their coach Ben Hall described as an ankle injury.
And tight end Donnie Hatfield, who caught one pass in the first half, went down with a knee injury that will require further evaluation, according to Hall.
“Early in the season we had really good chemistry and with the injuries it felt like we were starting over,” Hall said. “The silver lining is that we feel like we’re developing some depth at these positions.”
Despite the setbacks, Jefferson took control of the game with opportunistic special teams play at the end of a back-and-forth first quarter. Leading 7-3, Jefferson blocked a Riverside Military punt in the end zone, and Trent Sorrells recovered the ball in the end zone to take a 14-3 lead on the final play of the opening period.
From there, Skelton went to work in the second quarter distributing passes to his speedy receivers and creating a running lane for his own long touchdown score just three minutes before halftime. Sophomore Darrian Hill scored for Jefferson on a 1-yard run in the second quarter and a run of 52 in the third period. Williams scored on 30-yard and 1-yard runs in the second quarter.
Skelton’s first touchdown pass went to Blake on a 16-yard pass just before halftime, then a 53-yard toss to junior Rodney Carr in the third quarter.
The best sign for Jefferson’s offense on the night, according to Hall, was a 65-yard touchdown drive to open the game that included a 27-yard grab by Dalton Hill and finished with a 1-yard scoring run by Blake.
“I liked the way we started the game with that first drive,” Hall said. “That’s one of the better offensive drives we’ve had.”
Pettell had two touchdown throws of his own in the third quarter: a 7-yard throw to Avery Cagle and a 73-yard throw to C.J. Howard just two minutes after the first.
Howard finished with a team-high 95 yards on four catches for the Eagles, while Cagle had five grabs for 68 yards.