Jefferson coach T. McFerrin said he’d been worried all week about his team’s game with East Jackson and a 7-0 deficit 59 seconds into the contest probably did nothing to ease his mind on a soggy, rainy night.
But the remaining 47 minutes did.
Jefferson (7-2, 4-2) reeled off 35 unanswered points and rushed for 334 yards in a 35-7 win over the upset-minded Eagles as the Dragons continue to shoot for a state playoff berth.
“I was proud of our guys on a sloppy night for playing as well as they did,” McFerrin said, noting the rainy weather.
The Dragons relied heavily on their running attack given the wet conditions as they got four touchdowns from quarterback Bryant Shirreffs — all in the first half — and a career-high 177 yards rushing from sophomore tailback Tristen Jackson, who also scored a touchdown. Jackson has rushed for 297 yards in the last two games.
Shirreffs threw just eight passes, completing four for 69 yards.
“The weather is a great equalizer,” McFerrin said. “You worry about that all the time. It took away our passing game a little bit but we still made some good plays throwing the ball I thought.”
Carson Newman sparked the Dragon defense again with 15 tackles, four of which were tackles for loss. Newman has 70 tackles in his last four games and 20 tackles for loss in that span.
“He’s had three or four straight great nights — just playing great,” McFerrin said.
C.J. Allen led East Jackson’s offense with 74 yards on 15 carries.
East Jackson (3-6, 1-5) got its lone score from Tyler Collins, who sprinted 21 yards on a quarterback keeper to put the Eagles up 7-0 with 11:01 left in the first quarter. Collins finished with 69 yards on the ground.
“No. 16 (Collins) is a good runner,” McFerrin said. “No. 24 (Allen) is a good runner. They’ve got some skilled athletes, and I knew they would be fired up here playing on senior night.”
East Jackson coach Brian Smith, in an interview after the game, said his team came out motivated.
“We played hard and we kind of preached that all week, that we were going to come out and we wanted to take the game to them a little bit,” Smith said. “I thought we did a great job of doing that.”
But Jefferson answered Collins’ touchdown with a 12-play drive, capped by a four-yard score by Shirreffs. The turning point of the game then came on the first play of the second quarter. East Jackson fumbled the ball away and committed a personal foul during the sequence of events, setting up Jefferson at the Eagle 31. Shirreffs scored shortly after with a one-yard touchdown to put the Dragons ahead 13-7.
Shirreffs increased the lead to 21-7 with a 15-yard touchdown on an option keeper with 3:13 left in the half, followed by a two-point conversion from Drequn Sewell. Shirreffs finished with 68 yards rushing (and had 67-yard run on a fake punt negated by offsetting penalties). McFerrin said the option was a bigger part of this week’s game plan.
“Bryant Shirreffs did a great job on the option,” McFerrin said. “We put that in this week. We’ve had it in, but we put it in this week because of the defense that they run.”
The lead grew to 28-7 at intermission after Shirreffs scrambled for an 11-yard score with 17 seconds left in the second quarter.
Though Jefferson held a commanding lead at that point, Smith was pleased with the Eagles’ first-half.
“I think that other than us running our mouths a couple of times in the first half, I was very pleased,” Smith said. “I was disappointed in our seniors who ran their mouths and got penalties. But other than that, we played a good half. Those (the penalties) were crucial plays that gave them 15 (yards) at times.”
Tristen Jackson provided the only points for either team in the second half, scoring from five yards out for the Dragons as Jefferson moved to 4-0 all-time against East Jackson and, again, claimed the unofficial title of county champion. Jefferson is 3-0 this year against all in-county competition. It is now 6-0 versus the rest of the county over the last two years.