Wednesday September 20th, 2017 7:02AM

Jefferson defense helping key Dragons' historic run (Video)

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
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JEFFERSON -- Wesley Simonton wasn't even alive the last time Jefferson football reached the state quarterfinals -- and yet the senior linebacker has a special connection with the 1977 Dragons squad that marauded its way to the Class B title game.

"My uncle was on the last team that went to the state championship, so I hear about it a lot," Simonton said, chuckling.

On Friday, Simonton will do his best to continue in his familial footsteps, as Jefferson plays host to Fitzgerald in a Class AA quarterfinal, and, as one of the leaders of the Dragons' defense, Simonton says he and his squad are champing at the bit for the opportunity.

"Just to have a chance to be in the third round Is amazing, so we're going to take every second of it and enjoy it... and do everything we can to win."

For much of the 2012 campaign that "everything" has included some pretty spectacular defensive play. And while the Dragons have built a reputation as an explosive offensive force, Jefferson's defense has proven just as key in its first quarterfinal charge in 35 years.

Access North sports editor Morgan Lee recently caught up with members of the Jefferson defense and coach T McFerrin to talk about their exploits so far and the challenges ahead this Friday. To watch a video presentation, simply click "play" below.

Feature: Jefferson Defense from WDUN TV on Vimeo.

In fact the Dragons (11-1) are allowing just 10.1 points per game and have not allowed more than 10 points in any one contest since a 62-26 defeat of Greene County on Sept. 28.

It is a stat made even more impressive when considering that Jefferson returned just four starters from last year's unit.

"I don't know if I expected it or not because they were so inexperienced and so small," Dragons coach T McFerrin said of a group that has proven the stingiest since McFerrin took over Jefferson in 2009. "We have a completely new secondary. We only had four starters back on defense. You always hope for the best, but they've been a pleasant surprise."

Not that it came easy. An inexperienced Dragons defense needed some time to gel, opening the season by allowing an average of 18.75 points through its first four games. But veterans such as Simonton and Kody McDonald -- Jefferson's No. 1 and 2 tacklers, respectively -- knew there was plenty of potential amongst their teammates.

"We lost a lot of people off our defense from last season, but I expected a lot. This is one of the best defenses I've ever been a part of," Simonton said "I knew at the start of the season we could be a great defense. We had the ability to be a defense people in Jefferson will remember. The key is a will to win and to never give up. That's what's made us great."

The Dragons have showed as much over the past eight contests, allowing just 5.75 points per game in that span, including holding playoff foes Kendrick and Westminster to eight and seven points, respectively.

"At the beginning of the year we were shaky, but as the year went on people got more comfortable and began to believe in themselves more and believed in others," Simonton said. "That's what made the defense so successful. We do our assignments and trust everyone else to do their assignments."

That attention to detail, combined with speed and attitude have helped make up for any other deficiencies.

"They're playing hard. We're not very big on defense, in fact we're small," McFerrin said. "Our defensive line is really small. We've got a 188-pound tackle and 190-pound tackle. We were outweighed 100 pounds a man (in the first round of the playoffs) when we played Kendrick. They play hard, and they're running to the ball. We're getting some penetration with some blitzes, and the defensive coaches are doing a great job."

As well as they've played, however, the Dragons know they will have to raise their game to another level this week against a Fitzgerald team that possesses both ability and postseason experience -- this will be the Purple Hurricanes (10-2) fifth straight trip to the state quarterfinals.

Jefferson will be tested by a wing-T Fitzgerald offense that enters averaging 32.1 points per game and that relies on multiple ball carriers and plenty of speed.

"They've got a ton of players, and their quarterback is really fast," McDonald said "It'll be the toughest challenge we've faced, but we'll just take it day by day and take care of business."

Purple Hurricanes signal caller Romarius Gaulden and fullback Ron Swain helped lead Fitzgerald to last week's 52-20 defeat of Vidalia, sparking a rushing attack that finished the game with 330 yards on the ground.

"We started working on them on Saturday morning, and we need more time than that," McFerrin said. "They've got more speed than we've seen in a long, long time."

Yet the Dragons defense -- which also features standouts such as Connor Paul, Tay Stevens, Tyler Bowen, Rufus Whitfield, Justin Holcombe, Todd Brown, Trent Sorrells, Tradd Porter, Micah Carpenter, Hanon Price and Austin Mixon -- feels it is tested and ready for the jump in competition.

"We're all excited here. This is the furthest we've made it in a long time, and it's going to take everyone playing their best Friday," McDonald said. "But I think we're going to come out and have one of our best games and bring it home."

Should that happen there's little doubt that, as Simonton hoped, this Dragons' defense will take its place in Jefferson folklore -- alongside his uncle and 1977 teammates.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson
-- FITZGERALD (10-2, No. 2 seed Region 1-AA): Defeated Vidalia 52-20 in the second round.
-- JEFFERSON (11-1, No. 1 seed Region 8-AA): Defeated Westminster 35-7 in the second round.
-- HISTORY: This is the two teams' first meeting.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Greater Atlanta Christian vs. Early County winner in the semifinals.
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