JEFFERSON — Despite being without the services of several key players, the Jefferson Dragons (11-0) remained unbeaten with a 21-13 victory Friday over Heard County (6-5) in the opening round of the Class AA playoffs at Memorial Stadium.
The win sets up a matchup with defending state champion Buford next Friday in the second round at Memorial Stadium.
Lucas Redd (illness), Hoytes Damons (ankle sprain) and Charlie McClure (concussion) were not in uniform for the Dragons who were facing a Braves team that entered the contest on a three-game win streak.
A 22-yard touchdown run by Darius Minor sealed the victory. Minor’s score was the Dragons’ first since he returned a punt 68 yards that gave them a 14-0 lead with 3:36 left in the first quarter.
Minor finished with 212 all-purpose yards to go along with his two scores.
"We were without some key players tonight," Minor said. "We had a lot of young guys step up and do a good job. As far as Buford, we’re not going to back down. We’re going to practice like we normally do and come out ready to play."
The Dragons grabbed a 7-0 lead thanks to a 4-yard run by Zach Allen at the 5:41 mark of the first quarter to cap an 88-yard drive.
The drive was aided by Chris Jackson, who almost single-handedly stalled the Braves’ first drive with back-to-back stops. He then picked up 22 yards on his only catch of the game, followed by a 19-yard run to move the ball into Braves’ territory.
"I’ve been telling my teammates to just stay consistent and stay focused," Jackson said. "That’s how we won the ballgame. We just had teamwork and dedication."
The Dragons would need just that as Braves quarterback Santez Emory showcased his elusiveness throughout the game. In the first half, Emory had more rushing yards (72) than the entire Jefferson offense (60) on his way to a 128-yard performance on 27 attempts.
On his team’s first scoring drive, Emory converted on multiple fourth down plays during a drive that lasted for over nine minutes before plunging in from the 1-yard line with 6:16 left in the half. Emory added another 1-yard score in the second half, but the PAT was no good as his team trailed 14-13.
"We knew Jefferson was going to be physical," Heard County coach Tim Barron said. "When you look back at a game like this, you can look back at the film and see that they made plays where we didn’t. That’s the difference between winning and losing. Jefferson is not going to beat themselves and when you give up punt returns and big plays, those things come back to hurt you."
Following a three-and-out, the Dragons defense would get the ball back to the offense after swarming to the ball on fourth down.
Minor passed to Sky Porter for 42 yards, giving the Dragons a first down at the Braves’ 15. It was one of the few times in the first half where the Dragons were able to move the chains. They had only five first downs in the opening half, nine total.
"They (Braves) had twice as many plays as we did and we just couldn’t get them off the field," Dragons coach T. McFerrin said. "But on that last drive, we showed a lot of character. With the guys we had out, we had guys playing a lot more snaps. The team rose to the occasion and I was really proud of those guys."