By Michael Alpert
For the AJC
The way fans rushed the field when Jefferson beat visiting Fitzgerald in triple overtime in the Class AA quarterfinals, Dragons coach T. McFerrin said it was “like we’d won the Super Bowl.”
That makes potential celebration after Saturday’s Class AA final against Calhoun at the Georgia Dome unfathomable.
Though close in record, 13-1 Jefferson is decidedly the underdog against 14-0 defending champion Calhoun, a team unbeaten in two seasons, winner of 12 consecutive region championships and playing in a fifth state championship game in a row. In contrast, Jefferson’s never won a championship, last reached finals in 1975 and ‘77, and had to sneak up on people to win its first region title in three years.
It’s a classic David versus Goliath story. But increasingly, that’s how McFerrin and his Dragons like it.
“We’re definitely David,” McFerrin said. “We’ve been underdogs all year. We’ve gotten used to it.”
Bryant Shirreffs, Jefferson’s quarterback who has passed for 2,181 yards and 17 touchdowns, considers this season a wild ride, losing the opener to Commerce 22-7, then winning 13 straight, including playoff games against Kendrick, Westminster Fitzgerald and Greater Atlanta Christian.
“It’s happened so fast. It’s hard to soak it all in at once,” he said. “We’ve kept winning, and it’s been an awesome ride.”
Calhoun, ranked No. 1 since the preseason, was expected by many to be playing on today’s biggest stage. The Yellow Jackets are riding a 29-game win streak since losing to Buford in the 2010 final. After outlasting Buford 27-24 in overtime for the title last season, especially with Buford moving to AAA this season, the Jackets became the odds-on favorite to win it all again.
In contrast, Jefferson didn’t break into the rankings until half way through the regular season and never rose higher than seventh. This year’s region championship, unlike Calhoun’s 12 straight, was the Dragons’ first in three seasons and only the sixth in school history.
“We’ve been fortunate to make some big plays when we’ve needed them,” McFerrin said.
Calhoun won the teams’ only other matchup, 39-6, in last season’s first round of the playoffs. The Dragons reportedly racked up 351 yards against a Jackets defense accustomed to allowing far less, but managed only a touchdown despite 21 first downs and six trips within Calhoun’s 20-yard line. Shirreffs passed for 253 yards and a touchdown, but was sacked six times.
That win propelled the Jackets to other playoff victories against Brooks County, Dublin, Appling County and Buford.
In today’s 2:30 p.m. rematch, Calhoun coach Hal Lamb said his team is taking nothing for granted. He knows going up 22-0 on Jefferson, as his Jackets did by halftime last season, won’t be easy.
“After watching (Jefferson) on film, they’re a good team,” he said. “It’s going to be a great battle.”