ATLANTA — The Jefferson High football team knocked off the top team in Class AA to earn the program’s first state championship Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
The Dragons defeated top-ranked and defending champions Calhoun 31-14 behind three rushing touchdowns and 310 total yards by quarterback Bryant Shirreffs and a dominant performance by the defense, which held the high-powered Yellow Jackets’ offense to its lowest point total of the season.
It was the second state championship for legendary Jefferson coach T McFerrin, who led Elbert County to the 1995 state title and later came out of retirement to coach at Jefferson.
“This never crossed my mind when I came out of retirement because it never happened at Jefferson,” McFerrin said. “I am speechless right now. All of Jefferson must have been here. I couldn’t believe the crowd we had.”
Jefferson struck first in the game with a short touchdown run by junior running back Tristen Jackson. Calhoun came back with some fire of its own after taking the kickoff return back to the 50-yard line. However, the Jefferson defense brought Calhoun to a standstill and two penalties continued to push them farther away from the end zone. Jefferson’s Trent Sorrells sacked Calhoun’s Taylor Lamb, a play that made Jefferson fans go crazy and sent Calhounback to the sidelines.
Later, Shirreffs, an Ivy League prospect, notched the second touchdown of the night with a leap in the end zone as Calhoun defenders began to swarm in.
More trouble ensued for Calhoun on 2nd and 20 as they were called for illegal substitution and the Dragons took over from there. Jefferson had a blunder or two of its own but made up for it when Shirreffs aired a deep ball out to Chandler Thompson who made the big grab. The play put the Dragons in the Yellow Jackets’ territory and Jefferson scored its third rushing touchdown of the night. Jefferson held onto a 21-7 lead at the break.
Calhoun didn’t come out of the half rusty, but an offsides penalty forced them to punt earlier than expected. Yet the Dragons faced some early second half problems of their own and couldn’t move the ball down the field.
On third and 10 with no where to run and a receiver to find, Shirreffs teamed up with McKay Dickens to extend Jefferson’s drive. However, Shirreffs aired out a very daring throw between a couple of Calhoun defenders and the Yellow Jackets seized the ball in midair. Just one play later, the Yellow Jackets trimmed their deficit to seven.
Calhoun had the momentum on its side for just a minute or two before Jefferson’s Micah Carpenter intercepted Lamb’s pass and nearly took it to the house. Shirreffs ended the drive with a short run to pay dirt and later Chandler Schlutow added a field goal that gave Jefferson a 31-14 lead at the top of the fourth. The Dragons continued to hold off Calhoun until the clock struck zero.
The Dragons were able to run a variety of different schemes in the game including the triple option. Having a multitude of options through the air and on the ground made the Jefferson offense difficult for Calhoun to defend.
“That’s a credit to the coaching and the offensive line,” Shirreffs said.
Schlutow bruised his neck in the game against Fitzgerald High and said at the time that he was uncertain whether or not he would return this season.
“It meant everything (to play in this game). I love all of these guys,” Schlutow said.