Click here to see video of the Dragons preparing for Friday's game.
North Oconee at Jefferson
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Jefferson Memorial Stadium
Coaches: North Oconee, Terry Tuley; Jefferson, Bill Navas
Records: North Oconee (7-1, 6-1 Region 8-AA); Jefferson (8-0, 7-0)
Key players: North Oconee, QB Lane Thompson (5-8, 155 Sr.), TE Kevin Burris (6-2, 215 Sr.), LB Brad Stanley (6-2, 195 Sr.). Jefferson, DB/WR Tab Martin (5-8, 170 Sr.), QB Darius Minor (6-0, 180 Jr.), WR/DB Zac Crosby (5-9, 175 Sr.).
Prediction: JEFFERSON. The Dragons bring home their first region title since a Class B region title 1977.
JEFFERSON — Jefferson High football coach Bill Navas says his program has learned about the bitter disappointment of losing a chance at a region title. He just hopes the sixth-ranked Dragons (8-0, 7-0 Region 8-AA) aren’t doomed to repeat the past this season.
Jefferson has a chance to wrap up the region title against North Oconee (7-1, 6-1) on Senior Night tonight at Jefferson Memorial, and in the process lock up home field advantage to start the Class AA state playoffs. The Dragons have floated through the regular season unscathed thanks to a high-powered offense that has put at least 40 points five times this season, and a stingy defense that has compiled a pair of shutouts.
“We’re trying to see how good we can be, and the biggest thing is winning the region,” Navas said. “Because we’ve already secured a playoff spot, and at worst-case scenario will be no worse than a No. 2 seed.
“We’d like to have the No. 1 seed, so we can play at home for at least two weeks to start the playoffs, if we’re fortunate enough to win our first playoff game.”
Last season, Jefferson learned the hard way what it’s like to miss out on a shot at the region title. Still a part of Class A, the Dragons lost to Athens Academy in the final game of the regular season, which made Jefferson a No. 2 seed going into the playoffs. As a result, it had to go on the road for the second round of the playoffs and lost at Warren County.
This year’s crop of seniors don’t want to have to settle for anything less than a region title in their final season playing at Memorial Stadium.
“We’ve been looking forward to this since last year, and having a shot to win the region title, especially at home on Senior Night is great,” Dragons senior Kyle Roberds said.
“I think everyone learned from that Athens Academy game last year not to walk into a game with a big head, and the lesson we learned last year has really helped us this season.”
This kind of anticipated game is clearly nothing new for Jefferson.
But it’s all a new story for North Oconee. The Titans are in a position to make their first playoff appearance in school history. North Oconee is only in its fifth season since opening its doors, and this is the first season playing a region schedule for the Titans.
North Oconee has highlighted its shot at a region title by only allowing a combined 14 points on defense in last four wins. Titans coach Terry Tuley says he hoped the region title came down to this matchup when the season began.
“We’re very excited about the contest with Jefferson,” Tuley said. “It was our goal from the beginning to play Jefferson for the championship and then defend it with Fannin County in game No. 10.”
The Dragons coach respects tonight’s opponent for their strength on defense, discipline and strong coaching. But he felt like his team would be in a position to play for its first region title in 31 years, when the season began.
“This bunch has all been in the playoffs before and saw the path that being the No. 2 seed put us on,” Navas said. “This is a fun-loving bunch of kids on our team that are very competitive.
“We’re blessed with really good kids here at Jefferson,” Navas added. “As far as a bunch of good young boys, you couldn’t ask for better ones.”
Jefferson’s coach has seen his team bond on the field with its hard work. But he’s been touched by the way they help the less fortunate. Jefferson’s football players volunteer to work together every Tuesday night to work at a local food bank, they’ve worked with the homeless in Athens, and helped throughout Jefferson with those who are in need of assistance.
That selfless action by players to lend a hand to others made them more grateful for what they have. It also helped build a sense of community on the football field.
“It’s touching to work with those more unfortunate people,” Dragons senior receiver/defensive back Tab Martin said. “That made our seniors grow together as a team and build a lot of chemistry.”
The final piece of the puzzle on the football field came together over the summer when junior Darius Minor committed himself to becoming the quarterback the Dragons so desperately needed. Coming into this season Jefferson really didn’t have a solidified starter at quarterback to fill in for graduated senior Josh Bohannon.
Minor has become one of the most versatile quarterbacks in the area with 1,224 yards and 18 touchdowns passing, and 692 yards and eight touchdowns rushing in Jefferson’s spread option offense.
Minor displayed to his teammates before the season started that he was dedicated to becoming a team leader through his work in off season drills.
“We knew he was serious when he gave up his time over the summer to throw with us and go to camps,” Martin added. “That worked really paid off.”
Minor now is part of a mix of savvy veterans in Jefferson’s program, along with Martin, Times Elite 11 selection Zac Crosby and Virgil Appleby, have all been part of the program throughout their high school careers. That mix of great skill players and defensive consistency have the Dragons filled with hopes for the region title and a postseason run.