JEFFERSON — T. McFerrin has to be feeling pretty good about his decision to come out of retirement.
Following Jefferson’s undefeated 10-0 season last year, McFerrin, who last coached at South Gwinnett before retiring in 2004, stepped in and helped the program repeat the same feat and win back-to-back region titles for the first time in school history with a 35-21 win against East Jackson (9-1, 8-1 Region 8-AA) on Friday night at Memorial Stadium.
With the win, the back-to-back region champions from Jefferson play host to Heard County (6-4) in the first round of the Class AA state playoffs next Friday at Jefferson Memorial.
With the loss, Region 8-AA’s second-seeded Eagles play host to Manchester (7-3) in the opening round of the Class AA state playoffs next Friday in Commerce.
"I sure am proud of our team for responding so well in such a big game," McFerrin said before accepting the Region 8-AA championship trophy. "That East Jackson team is a very good football team."
The regular season finale for the Dragons (10-0, 9-0) decided the region title with both teams undefeated entering the game.
Despite taking four years away from the sideline, McFerrin clearly enjoyed the feeling of winning the big game. With a capacity crowd for this hotly anticipated matchup with East Jackson, McFerrin was the center of attention after the win, drawing interviews from television crews to capture the reaction of a coach with 311 wins in his career, and his first region title with his new program at Jefferson.
"One of the keys to us winning this game was that our defense played so well," McFerrin said. "This one means a lot to me."
Jefferson’s passing game worked remarkably well in the first half, continually hooking up for long pass plays, and set the tone for the win. Dragons senior quarterback Darius Minor finished the game with two second-quarter touchdown passes and 196 yards. He also ran for one touchdown.
Minor has been the quarterback at the center of Jefferson’s last two region titles and the first at the school since 1977. He finished the game with 244 yards of total offense and now he’s ready to see what kind of staying power these Dragons can find in the postseason.
"I really can’t explain what it means to be able to go out and win back-to-back region titles," Minor said. "I feel like I just won a $1 million bucks.
"Now we just have to continue to work every day like we have all season to try and get better, and play to the best of our ability."
The biggest play of the night came when Minor looked downfield, with great protection from the offensive line, and finding Tyler Porter streaking down the sideline for a 47-yard touchdown, giving Jefferson a 14-7 lead in the second quarter.
Later in the second half, Minor found senior Lucas Redd for a 30-yard touchdown and the Dragons carried a 21-7 lead into halftime. On the drive, Jefferson used designed passing plays for Redd at quarterback, who completed 34-and 20-yard passes to J.J. Damons.
The Dragons finished the game with 246 passing yards.
"Not to bash anyone, but we didn’t feel like they could stop our vertical passing game," Minor said.
And not only was Damons a threat catching the ball, he could also find a crease and score running too. Damons was in the right spot for a pitch from Minor early in the second quarter, which he took 24 yards for a touchdown.
Damons also scored late in the fourth quarter on a 54-yard touchdown run, and finished the game with 120 yards of total offense.
East Jackson had most of its success offensively in the fourth quarter. Trailing 28-7, the Eagles drove 18 plays and 65 yards and scored on a 3-yard run from Deon Sewell. After recovering an onside kick, East Jackson scored again with another short touchdown run by Sewell to narrow Jefferson’s lead to 28-14 with only 4:21 left to play.
The Eagles got down field quick for their final touchdown with a 33-yard catch by Cody Gibbs from senior quarterback Evan Williamson. Sewell was East Jackson’s leader offensively with 24 carries for 103 yards.
East Jackson’s first-half touchdown came when C.J. Allen scored on a 99-yard punt return, which came immediately after Damons’ first touchdown and tied the score at 7-7.