Juggernaut Calhoun made Jefferson's return to the Class AA football playoffs a short one.
Aided by three first-half turnovers from the Dragons, top-seeded Calhoun (11-0) — state runners-up the last three seasons — sailed past Jefferson 39-6 in the first round of the Class AA playoffs Friday.
The fourth-seeded Dragons (8-3), who trailed 22-0 at the half, managed to move the ball despite the lopsided score, with quarterback Bryant Shirreffs throwing for 253 yards loss.
“Overall, I thought our offense did well,” Shirreffs said. “I thought our defense did well in the first half. We just didn’t take care of the opportunities when we had them.”
Shirreffs finished 20-of-29, tossing a touchdown pass to McKay Dickens in the third quarter for Jefferson’s lone score. Shirreffs added 37 yards on the ground, recording 290 total yards. Jefferson finished with 351 total yards.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a game where a team of mine had 351 yards and scored six points,” Jefferson coach T. McFerrin said. “That was the amazing thing about the game that we were able to move the ball on them.”
Dragon senior Will Puckett saved one of his biggest performances for last with 107 yards receiving.
Jefferson fumbled the ball away on its first possession of the game and was intercepted on its second. Calhoun cashed in on the interception, scoring eight plays later with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Lamb.
One of the key moments of the game came in the second quarter with the Dragons threatening to score. Calhoun forced a turnover on downs in its own territory, stopping the Dragons at the seven yard line, and made Jefferson pay with another touchdown drive to take a 14-0 lead.
“They’re a good football team,” McFerrin said. “You can’t have turnovers and you’ve to score in the red zone when you have opportunities.”
The Dragons’ turnover woes continued as Calhoun returned a fumble 40 yards to go up 20-0 with 3:40 left in the second quarter. Then, a high snap on a Jefferson punt resulted in a safety just before halftime and a 22-0 Yellow Jacket lead. The Dragons trailed by three touchdowns despite knocking out 13 first downs and racking up 218 yards of total offense.
“Overall, I think we played a pretty good game,” Shirreffs said. “We just didn’t execute in the red zone.”
Calhoun bumped its lead up to 29-0 before Jefferson got on the board with 2:24 in the third with Shirreffs’ touchdown pass to Dickens.
“We played hard,” McFerrin said. “I was proud of that. We didn’t quit. I was proud of that also. We played a really good football team.”
The Yellow Jackets added a field goal and a touchdown as they moved on in their quest to make it back to the state finals a fourth-straight year.
“I think they’re good,” Shirreffs said. “I hope they do well in the playoffs, and I was impressed. It was a fun game, but it’s just a shame that we didn’t win.”
Shirreffs said it was sad to say goodbye to the Jefferson seniors as the Dragons’ season came to a close.
“But I think we’re all looking forward to next year and what we can do to get better,” he said.
Shirreffs added that this was a productive year.
“We had some ups and downs,” he said. “We probably should have won either the North Oconee or Elbert County game. The loss of (receiver) Cole Givens was big but some receivers really stepped up, some really big receivers for next year.”
The Dragons managed to win eight games in what McFerrin called a very difficult schedule. Jefferson’s season included wins over North Hall and Hart County, two teams the Dragons lost to last year.
“I was proud of us coming back and beating two of the teams we didn’t beat last year,” McFerrin said. “Our boys, every game, I thought they played hard. There was no giving up and they were fighting to the end. I appreciated that and I’m proud of that.”
Great season for the Dragons! Calhoun is an awesome atmosphere to play in and Jefferson played their heart's out. In 8AA Banks season ended but Elbert County and North Oconee are moving on. Elbert County hosts Cook County next week and North Oconee hosts Appling County. Just a thought in Calhoun abd North Oconee continue to win they could meet in the semi-finals and North Oconee would host the game.