Tasked with stopping a Calhoun offense that nobody has stopped, Jefferson’s defense delivered a state-championship caliber performance.
The Dragons surrendered 345 yards but was able to hold the Yellow Jackets’ potent attack to 30 points below its seasonal average in a 31-14 state championship victory Saturday. Both of those scores came off turnovers.
Jefferson was burned big just once, when Calhoun standout quarterback Taylor Lamb hit Tydus Curtis for a 75-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter following an interception.
“We knew they were going to break big plays,” said Jefferson linebacker Wesley Simonton, who finished with eight tackles and a pass break-up. “Obviously, they’ve scored a bunch of points. We just had to fix it. That’s all we did. Stuff like that is going to happen. You’re not going to shutdown a team like Calhoun. We fixed it and we held them to 14 points, which is great.”
Jefferson was well-aware of the Yellow Jackets’ offensive credentials and overall success as a program coming into this game. After all, Calhoun scored 39 points on the Dragons last year in the playoffs en route to the 2011 state title.
But Jefferson remained undaunted in its preparation for its biggest test of the year.
“We face every team like the last one,” Jefferson linebacker Kody McDonald said. “We look them the same. We didn’t care about their record. We knew they were going to be a tough team. We just wanted revenge against last year when they ran up the score on us in the first round. What better way to take them out than the state championship?”
The Dragons did so by forcing Calhoun to be entirely one-dimensional as the Yellow Jackets mustered just 36 yards on the ground in their first loss since the 2010 season.
“They had a great running game,” Jefferson coach T. McFerrin said. “We shut it down pretty good. Just the way our defense played, it was unbelievable. I keep using that word, but it was. It was unbelievable.”
Jefferson finished with five tackles for loss and a sack. Defensive backs Trent Sorrells, Micah Carpenter and Tradd Porter each had 13 tackles. Sorrells finished with a sack and tackle for loss. Carpenter had a huge interception in the third quarter along with a tackle for loss and two forced fumbles. Porter had a pass break-up.
Sure, Lamb got his passing yards — 309 with two touchdowns — but Jefferson was able to force him to throw two interceptions. It was the Dragons’ goal to rattle the Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year with constant pressure.
“Our defensive coordinator coach (Tom) Parker has really been working on our blitzes and how we’re just going to cross our linemen and get pressure on the quarterback,” said McDonald, who finished with seven tackles and a tackle for loss. “And our no. 1 priority was to get Taylor Lamb out of his rhythm and once we got him out of that, it was smooth sailing from there.”
Simonton agreed that harassing Lamb was one of the keys to the defense’s success.
“Putting pressure on him, making him move around and stuff — if he just sits back there, he’s going to pick us apart all day,” Simonton said. “We had to put some pressure on him and that’s exactly what we did and it really paid off well.”