Jefferson vs. Heard County
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Jefferson Memorial Stadium
JEFFERSON — In the 40 or so years he’s spent on the sidelines, Jefferson coach T. McFerrin has a learned a thing or two about pacing — not the worried walking kind of pacing, but the kind that refers to a slow, assured rate of movement.
No need to get worked up on Tuesday for a game that’s still three days away, he figures, just the same as there’s no sense in expending unneccessary energy in September if your ultimate goal is to still be playing in December.
With that in mind, McFerrin made the somewhat surprising decision to let his players have the entire week off last month during the the Dragons’ bye week.
“I told the coaches at the beginning of the year that we aren’t going to wear (the players) out,” McFerrin said. “What I’ve tried to do is look at it like a 15-game season. Very rarely do you get to play 15 games, but I try to base things on playing 15 weeks, not 10 weeks or 11 weeks.
“Even with this off week we had a few weeks ago, we justified giving them the whole time off because we’re getting them ready for the playoffs.”
Now, as the Dragons enter this week’s first-round matchup with Heard County as the undefeated champions of Region 8-AA, it’d be hard to argue with McFerrin’s methods. After the bye week, Jefferson closed out the regular season with four straight wins by an average margin of 32-10, including victories over the region’s No. 2 and 3 seeds, East Jackson and North Oconee.
Jefferson’s regular season winning streak has now reached 20 games, including 10 last season by McFerrin’s predecessor, Bill Navas. When Navas stepped down in the offseason, McFerrin, who’s one of the winningest coaches in Georgia high school history, was persuaded to come out of retirement.
Since taking over at Jefferson, he’s installed a multiple-I formation offense — a switch from the Dragons’ spread attack employed last year — and his philosophy of fresh legs has gotten a boost from a deep stable of playmakers at the skill positions.
Led by Lucas Redd’s 647 rushing yards, four Dragons have topped 350 rushing yards and helped Jefferson to an average of 250 yards per game on the ground, despite the fact that no player on the team averages more than nine carries per game.
“If we just had one tailback, we’d probably give him 25 carries,” McFerrin said. “But it just so happens we’ve got a lot of backs that are pretty close to being the same.”
J.J. Damons’ performance in last week’s region-clinching win over East Jackson showed how that can be dangerous for Dragon opponents.
Damons, who leads the team with 318 receiving yards, had a team-high 97 yards on the ground and two touchdowns in the 35-21 win. He now has 700 yards of total offense to his credit this season.
“It’s a good thing,” Damons said of the Dragons’ depth, “because we know we’re not putting the load all on one person. People can’t say it’s a one-may team, because we’re making plays for everybody — me, Darius (Minor), Lucas and Caleb (Meek).”
Last season, much of Jefferson’s offense ran through Minor. As a first-year starter at quarterback, he finished the year with more than 1,900 passing yards and nearly 900 on the ground. Because he hasn’t been asked to do as much this season, his numbers have dipped some, but the senior said he sees the team benefit.
“I’m not a selfish player, so I really don’t mind,” Minor said. “It really helps a lot. We really don’t have that many players on the team, and we’ve got a lot players playing both ways, so it really does help keep us fresh.”
And Minor showed last week he hasn’t lost his touch. As the Dragons opened up the offense, Minor found himself taking on more playmaking responsibility again, and responded, completing 8 of 10 passes for 185 yards and two scores while rushing for 52 yards and another touchdown.
For the season, he’s second on the team with 580 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 54 carries and has thrown for 767 yards and seven more scores.
This week’s opponent also features a deep and talented roster of skill players.
Heard County (6-4, No. 4 5-AA) runs a double-slot option offense, helmed by quarterback Santez Emory and balanced by running back Jeremiah Hill and wide receiver Jaquay Williams. But the Braves’ offensive line was the first thing that jumped off the film, according to McFerrin.
“I’d say they’re probably the best offensive line we’ve played all year,” he said. “They really come off low and hard and aggressive.”