BOGART — The Jefferson Dragons quickly raced out of the gates on Friday, taking advantage of two first-quarter North Oconee turnovers to take a two touchdown lead en route to a 20-6 victory Friday.
The Dragons (9-0, 8-0 Region 8-AA) remained undefeated, with a showdown against East Jackson looming next Friday.
“The defense played great and I’m so proud of those guys,” Dragons coach T. McFerrin said. “We got those turnovers and those were big. We knew North Oconee had a good team and you could see that because we struggled to move the ball in the first half against them.”
North Oconee (7-2, 6-2) took the opening kickoff and proceeded to give the Dragons a heavy dose of their ground game on five consecutive plays before deciding to go to the air. Following an incompletion on a reverse pass, Zac Allen forced a Titans’ fumble which was scooped up by Chris Jackson and returned 46 yards to give the Dragons a 7-0 lead at the 8:18 mark of the first quarter.
“All I was focused on was the end zone when I scooped it up,” Jackson said. “I had to do what I had to do for the team. We had a lot of heart and team spirit out here tonight.”
Moments later, the Dragons recovered another fumble by the Titans at their 30-yard line.
It didn’t take long for J.J. Damons to go to work from there, as the multi-dimensional threat bounced around the right side — breaking two tackles in the process — on his way to a 22-yard score with 4:44 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Jefferson defense forced a punt on the Titans next possession but muffed the punt. The Titans took over at the Jefferson 25-yard line, and seven plays later, Marcus Alford burst up the middle for a 3-yard touchdown run to cut the Dragons’ lead to 14-6 in the first quarter.
“What happened to us was what we expected,” Titans coach Terry Tuley said. “We thought we could stop them but we knew we couldn’t do that completely. The more we controlled the ball, the less our defense was on the field and the less their explosive talent had a chance to hurt us. By design we were trying to do that. I don’t lament the lack of scoring as much as I do spotting one of the top teams in Class AA 14 points early.”
After North Oconee drove down to the Jefferson 4-yard line, Dragons defensive coordinator Tom Parker began mixing things up and it showed.
Followed by back-to-back defensive stops inside the 5-yard line, Zach Allen burst through the line of scrimmage to sack the Titans quarterback and force a fumble at the 18. The Dragons recovered and were able to hold onto the lead going into the half.
The Dragons got the ball to start the second half, and looked nothing like the team that scored points at will during the first eight weeks of the season. In the third quarter, the Dragons ran only nine plays for 26 yards and one first down. The Titans didn’t fare much better, converting only two first downs while picking up 15 yards on 13 plays.
It also helped that Hoytes Damons, who was used primarily in passing situations on defense, thwarted a Titans scoring drive when he picked up a 9-yard sack on third-and-10 at the Jefferson 27. The play forced the Titans to attempt a 52-yard field goal that was missed.
“Last week, I really didn’t play to my ability like I should have,” Damons said. “Tonight, I just wanted to step up and play like I knew I could. We really worked hard in practice this week and it paid off.”
“Our big thing was just getting lined up so we could get focused on what to do, read our read keys and then play tough football,” Parker said. “I felt like our guys played really tough tonight. We did a great job of making adjustments at halftime and then just playing solid football in the second half. I’m proud of our kids for being so tough because North Oconee’s offense had a lot of speed and they were physical up front.”Minor connected with Lucas Redd for the Dragons biggest gain of the second half, a 17-yarder which set Jefferson up at the North Oconee 28-yard line with 7:45 remaining.
Redd finished with 15 carries for 83 yards.
After being stopped on third down, Asher Orr’s 37-yard field goal attempt was short, as the North Oconee offense returned to the field.
The Dragons defense forced another three and out, and on their ensuing drive, drove 56 yards in 10 plays before Redd found his way into the end zone from 14 yards out to close out the scoring.