JEFFERSON’S Carson Newman doesn’t deny that there’s pressure.
The Dragons face their decades-old rival — Commerce — Friday and have the chance to tie a school-record winning streak against them. That certainly adds a little bit of gravity to a football season opener.
“Yes, sir,” said Newman, a senior defensive end for the Dragons. “We feel pressure. We feel pressure from every game, but specially this one. We haven’t had a five-(game winning) streak in a while against them.”
Newman is exactly right.
A victory over Commerce Friday would give Jefferson five wins in a row over the rival Tigers and tie a streak that has only been achieved one other time by the Dragons — from 1967-1971.
Of course, Commerce has ruled the rivalry historically, leading 41-19-5, but the momentum has swung back in Jefferson’s favor decidedly.
Newman and his fellow seniors were mere seventh graders in 2006 when Jefferson last lost to Commerce. The Dragons then walloped the Tigers 42-7 in 2007 to start the current run.
Maintaining the streak means a lot to Newman and his fellow seniors as he explains the importance of the Jefferson-Commerce series.
“That’s the tradition here — Jefferson versus Commerce, the whole rivalry,” Newman said. “That’s very important. (For) a good season, beating Commerce is one of the things we want.”
Jefferson coach T. McFerrin has spent over four decades in coaching but is relatively new to the rivalry with Friday being his third Dragon-Tiger encounter. But he has a lot of respect for this series, which began back in 1947.
“I’m a history major, so I can appreciate the rivalry,” said McFerrin, who came to Jefferson in 2009.
With Commerce being a big non-region game, McFerrin likes the positioning of this series on the schedule.
“It’s a non-region game so you like to play those first,” McFerrin said. “Then, it’s a rivalry game, so that makes it special. And it’s the Commerce game, so that makes it extra special with the history of the rivalry and the closeness of the two communities.”
The rivalry will look a little different this year on the Tiger sideline.
Longtime Commerce coach Steve Savage stepped down last year, meaning this will be the first time since 1988 that a non Savage-coached Tiger team will take the field against the Dragons.
New Commerce coach Marvin Justice said he’s excited about his debut against Jefferson but said the positioning of this game on the schedule doesn’t make that big of difference. His Tigers would have had to play Jefferson eventually, he said.
“We’ll prepare for it like any other game,” Justice said.
Justice added that both the teams were able to scout each other during scrimmages, “so you don’t feel like you’re going into it blind.”
More than anything perhaps, the fans will be eager to see these teams return to the football field against each other — especially Jefferson’s partisans who hope they’ll be celebrating a victory for the fifth year in a row.
To that end, Newman noted that a “blue-out” at Memorial Stadium has been ordered Friday.
“It’s an important game for us, but especially for the fans,” Newman said. “They get pumped up and they all get like a theme, so we’re blue-ing out this week for Commerce. So it’s very important for our fan base too, not just us.”