At 5-foot-7, 155 pounds, T. McFerrin has a kinship with undersized guys with big harts.
That’s what endears the coach of 38 years to his Jefferson football players, who though smaller than many, find themselves the ones facing visiting Greater Atlanta Christian in Friday’s Class AA semifinal.
It’s McFerrin’s semifinal with a state-record fifth school, a round after last week’s quarterfinal with a record seventh. But he believes this year’s Jefferson team, the 10th he’s led as a head coach, has perhaps the most heart of any he can remember and a real chance of reaching the Dec. 15 final at the Georgia Dome.
“We’re small and not a team that’s going to scare anybody getting off the bus,” he said of nobody bigger than 5-foot-10, 230-pound guard Eli Griffin. “This has been an over-achieving team, one that’s played so hard, even without great size or speed.”
While defending state champion Calhoun (13-0) hosts Lamar County (12-1) in the other semifinal, Jefferson (12-1) hosts GAC (10-3) in another chapter of its storybook season. Since losing their season opener 22-7 to Commerce, the Dragons have ripped off 12 straight wins, including last week’s 53-51 thriller against Fitzgerald in triple overtime. After forcing extra time with a blocked field goal in the final 20 seconds of regulation, Bryant Shirreffs passed to Tristen Jackson for a touchdown and two-point conversion to put McFerrin within two wins of the replicating his lone state championship won at Elbert County in 1995.
“The place exploded,” McFerrin said of Shirreffs’ winning pass. “It was a celebration like we’d won the Super Bowl.”
Friday will be the Dragons’ first chance at a win in five matchups with the Spartans, who played as Class A teams in 1996-99, including the last two together in Region 8-A. All four of those meetings, however, were in the regular season, not a fever-pitch state semifinal.
Key this time will be the matchup between Shirreffs, who has passed for more than 2,000 yards and run for more than 1,000, and similarly prolific GAC quarterback Rafe Chapple, who threw for 133 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 27-24 win over Early County.
And there’ll be no shortage of emotion either. Like Jefferson, GAC is flying emotionally high since Brandon Holzgrefe’s 24-yard field goal beat Early 27-24 as time expired. The win was the Spartans’ sixth in the last seven games, following a 4-2 start.
In the other semifinal, Calhoun is facing Lamar for the first time in a matchup of unbeatens. It’ll be one of the biggest tests for the Trojans, who like Jefferson, have ripped off 12 consecutive wins since tying Spalding 3-3 to begin the season.
The Yellow Jackets bring the higher powered offense, having scored seven touchdowns in last week’s 49-14 win over previously unbeaten Brooks County. Lamar brings a dose of drama, having eliminated Lovett 34-28 on Lance Austin’s 34-yard scoring pass to Lawrence Austin with 1:40 left.