EACH OF Jefferson’s state playoff opponents has presented a worrisome matchup for Dragon coach T. McFerrin.
Kendrick had its size. Westminster boasted a high-powered passing attack. Now Fitzgerald — which Jefferson faces Friday — presents yet another challenge.
“They look like a track team playing football,” McFerrin said.
The veteran coach warns that Fitzgerald will by far be the fastest team Jefferson has faced when the Dragons take on the 10-2 Purple Hurricanes in the Class AA quarterfinals.
“It’s not even close,” McFerrin said.
The speedy Purple Hurricanes are coming off a 52-20 dismantling of a previously unbeaten Vidalia.
Still, the Dragons say they’re ready, and Jefferson does have the advantage of playing at home once again.
“We welcome them,” Jefferson senior linebacker Kody McDonald said Friday following Jefferson’s win over Westminster. “They’re on our turf. We’re going to bring it. They’re going to bring it.”
Senior lineman Collin Anthony pointed to Fitzgerald’s speed but has confidence in his team, which is riding an 11-game winning streak.
“They may be a little bit faster and out-quick us,” Anthony said. “But the way I feel like we’ve been playing, I mean, we can matchup to them.”
McFerrin compares Fitzgerald’s speed to that of Elbert County, a team Jefferson played in 2010 and 2011. Of Fitzgerald’s fast players, the most notable is probably quarterback Romarius Gaulden who is a threat every time he touches the ball.
“The quarterback is an outstanding runner and not a bad passer,” McFerrin said. “He doesn’t throw it a lot but he’s a heck of a runner. He’s really something when he gets his hands on the ball. He’s by far the best running quarterback we’ve faced all year.”
The Purple Hurricanes’ speed, along with the incorporation of an option game into their Wing-T offense, presents Jefferson with a number of challenges.
“We’ve got to be very sound because they run a lot of option,” McFerrin said. “That’s another problem you’ve got to deal with. It’s not just stopping the jet sweep.”
Defensively, the Fitzgerald — which bases out of the 3-4 and uses a lot of cover two — is extremely quick and led by players like safety Zeke Coley.
But the Dragons aren’t too shabby either.
Jefferson’s defense has been on a roll, holding foes to 10 points or less in eight consecutive ball games. The Dragons limited Westminster to just 165 yards this past Friday.
“The defense is playing hard. I’m proud of them,” McFerrin said. “They’re undersized there, and they’re playing their guts out.”
Jefferson also comes into this game having had plenty of success running the ball. The Dragons ran for 400 yards in their win over Westminster and have averaged 229 yards per contest. This, in a year that many thought would be more pass-oriented for Jefferson.
“We came out thinking that we were going to be more of a spread team,” Anthony said. “I think what’s really happened is that we’ve really just kind of evened out. Our run game has been excellent. I love the way we’ve been running the ball, the way we’ve been blocking. Our execution has just been great.”
McFerrin said there’s a reason Jefferson has been running the ball more.
“People have done a good job of taking stuff away from us and we try to do what they give us,” McFerrin said. “We don’t just run a play to run a play. We have a reason we do everything. We spend hours and hours on planning.”
Even if the Jefferson running game is a product of adjusting to a defense, the Dragons are doing a good job of it.
Quarterback Bryant Shirreffs has run for 1,018 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Sammy Williams has 764 yards and 10 scores. Tristen Jackson is nearing a 500-yard season with 484 yards and 13 touchdowns. And then there’s the development of the Jefferson offensive line, which has matured over the course of 12 games.
“You mix in an inexperienced offensive line and I’m so proud of them, too,” McFerrin said. “(Coach) Ben Hall has done a great job with them, and they’ve played well.”
Anthony certainly agrees, saying he’s proud of the offensive line this year.
“We’ve really stepped up from being four new starters,” said Anthony, who was the only returning starter this
year. “The way I feel is that we’ve really taken a big role and we’ve worked hard. We’ve worked all season, and we’re going to keep working hard because we plan to keeping playing.”