Jefferson’s 38-28 loss to North Oconee provided plenty of frustration for the Dragons — frustration they hope to use as fuel for the rest of what could still be a special season.
The Dragons (4-1, 1-1) return to action Friday on the road at Oglethorpe County as Jefferson has five games left this year.
“We’ll have a good week of practice (this) week; we’ll be more focused,” Jefferson senior receiver Will Puckett said Friday following the loss to the Titans. “This loss, I guess, really put us in our place, and showed us what we need to do.”
Jefferson coach T. McFerrin called the North Oconee loss “one of the most physical games I’ve seen since I’ve been at Jefferson.” The glaring difference in this battle of previously unbeaten teams — turnovers. Especially since Jefferson had been ultra protective of the football in its first four contests. The Dragons turned the ball over three times this past Friday.
“We haven’t had a turnover in four games,” McFerrin said. “I don’t know if I’ve had a team go four games without a turnover … It just caught up to us at a bad time against the best team we’ve played so far.”
McFerrin isn’t saying his team would have won if it wasn’t for the turnovers, but “I sure would have liked to have tried it out,” he said.
Jefferson moves on to face an improved Oglethorpe County team, but one that’s also reeling from a 30-13 loss to Jackson County.
The Patriots’ triple option attack was limited to 92 yards against Jackson County but has been effective for most of the year. Oglethorpe County’s offensive scheme is similar to what Georgia Tech employs, thus the Dragons must play assignment football.
“You’ve got to play disciplined defense and we haven’t been very disciplined on defense so far,” McFerrin said.
McFerrin added that Oglethorpe County has lots of athletes and pointed to Patriot running back Casey Davenport, who ran for 184 yards two weeks ago against East Jackson.
“He’s a load,” McFerrin said.
While plenty went wrong in the Dragons’ last showing, Jefferson’s resolve impressed McFerrin despite the loss. Down 35-28, the Dragons put themselves in a position to tie the game in the fourth quarter — only to be undone by a late turnover. But the energy and fight were there.
“Based on what I saw Friday, we’ve got a chance to win our next five games,” McFerrin said of the team’s effort. “At least we have a chance. I told them let’s go play our guts out and see if we can’t pull this thing out.”
•NORTH OCONEE 38, JEFFERSON 28: A match-up of the two most prolific offenses in the region produced plenty of points Friday, but turnovers proved to be the difference-maker in Jefferson’s 38-28 loss to North Oconee.
The Dragons’ Bryant Shirreffs threw for 242 yards and four touchdowns but Jefferson (4-1, 1-1) couldn’t overcome three fumbles — two of which came on special teams — in its first setback of the season.
“We all played hard, but we didn’t play necessarily our best,” Puckett said. “But we played hard. It’s just a tough loss.”
Puckett had a huge night nevertheless, catching three touchdown passes from Shirreffs and totaling 67 yards receiving in the losing effort. Donnie Hatfield also hauled in a touchdown reception and finished with 62 yards receiving.
Jefferson’s defense came up with some key stops late, which could have given the Dragons a chance to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Trailing 35-28 with eight minutes left to play, the Dragons forced a North Oconee punt and had seemingly seized the momentum. But Jefferson fumbled the ball away on the punt return, and the Titans (5-0, 2-0) cashed in with a field goal to provide the final margin of victory.
The game started in similar fashion for the Dragons.
Jefferson gave up a costly first-quarter turnover on special teams when North Oconee picked up a fumble on a botched Dragon punt attempt and raced in for a score to take a 7-0 lead.
The Dragons recovered, however, with Shirreffs tossing touchdown passes to Hatfield (12 yards) and Puckett (10 yards) to take a 14-7 second quarter lead. But North Oconee answered with three straight scores between the second and third quarters to lead 28-14 with 10:09 left in the third quarter.
Shirreffs and Puckett struck again, though, connecting for a 15-yard scoring strike with 7:53 left in the third quarter to cut the lead to 28-21. After the Titans went ahead 35-21 with another third-quarter touchdown, Puckett grabbed his third touchdown reception of the game when he caught a four-yarder from Shirreffs with 10:39 left in the game. That touchdown was set up by a 40-yard reception at the North Oconee five-yard line by McKay Dickens.