JEFFERSON -- With the defense on the verge of collapse against Fitzgerald, Jefferson's Bryant Shirreffs knew they had to keep scoring.
And score they did.
Shirreff's bullet pass to Tristan Jackson in the front corner of the end zone for a two-point conversion propelled the Dragons to a thrilling 53-51, three overtime win over the Hurricanes Friday night in the quarterfinals of the Class AA playoffs at Memorial Stadium.
"Everyone was tired on both sides," Shirreffs said. "We knew we would score, it was just a matter of the two-point conversion. If we hadn't gotten it I have no idea if we could have hung on. But the defense made the one play we needed."
Despite being physically worn down by Fitzgerald's relentless ground game in the second half, the Jefferson defense made the two biggest plays of the game. Hanon Price blocked a Hurricanes field goal attempt with 19 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime. The defense then stopped Fitzgerald inches from the goal on a two-point conversion in the third overtime setting the stage for the offense.
"The defense played a great game," Jefferson coach T. McFerrin said. "They never quit. It was a physical game and they were tired out there. But they made some plays when it counted."
Jefferson (12-1) moves into the semifinals for the first time since playing for the Class B title in 1977 and will take on Greater Atlanta Christian at Memorial Stadium, where the Dragons are 7-0 on the season.
The Dragons appeared to have the game in hand early in the fourth quarter when Sammy Williams scored on a 1-yard pitch play to give them a 31-16 lead with 11:17 left in the game. But in a matter of 74 seconds the momentum turned 180-degrees.
Senior kicker Chandler Schlutow was injured on the ensuing kickoff and had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. The 10-minute delay allowed the Hurricanes to regroup.
On the first play back, Fitzgerald quarterback Romarius Gaulden raced 52-yards virtually untouched to cut the lead to 31-24 after a two-point conversion with 10:51 left. The Hurricanes would then force the Dragons into a quick three-and-out on their next series and then four plays later Ron Swain went 53 yards for a touchdown to tie the game.
On its next possession Jefferson was stopped on downs at the Fitzgerald 29 with 5:27 left and the Hurricanes appeared to be on a game-winning march driving to the Jefferson 16 with 19 seconds left.
But Price somehow got a hand on Manuel Chavez's 33-yard field goal attempt to keep the Dragons alive.
"I don't know how but he got to the ball and that gave us some life," Shirreffs said.
The two teams then traded touchdowns in the first overtime but Fitzgerald failed on a run for a two-point conversion. The Dragons scored on their first play on a 15-yard run by Shirreffs but instead of going for two to win the game they went for an extra point and Fitzgerald blocked the kick.
"If I had it to do over I go for two. But thankfully our defense bailed us out," McFerrin said.
Both teams would score touchdowns and two-point conversions in the second overtime.
The first quarter was an offensive display by both teams as neither defense could get a stop. Shirreffs capped the opening drive with a 20-yard quarterback draw for a 7-0 lead for the Dragons.
Fitzgerald answered with 67-yard drive that ended with a Manuel Chavez 30-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3. The Dragons would come right back with a 67-yard drive of their own, capped by a 4-yard TD pass from Shirreffs to Walter Chapeau with 45 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Hurricanes would answer that with a quick 65-yard drive in just four plays. Larry Stewart would score on an 11-yard run that was set up by a 40-yard pass from Gaulden to Kevin Coney just 18 seconds into the second quarter.
After that, the defenses would begin to take control. Both defenses would force a change of possession on downs but Jefferson would get some breathing room with 1:38 left in the first half.
After stopping the Hurricanes at the Dragons' 45, Shirreffs would connect on two passes for 25 yards to set up a 7-yard touchdown run by Sammy Williams for a 21-10 lead.
Shirreffs would finish with 91 yards rushing and two touchdowns and 213 yards passing and two touchdowns. Jackson finished with 34 yards rushing and 49 yards receiving and a pair of touchdowns, one rushing and one passing, both in overtime. Williams had 40 yards rushing and two touchdowns for Jefferson.
Gaulden and Swain were nearly unstoppable in the second half for Fitzgerald (10-3). Gaulden had 63 of his 110 yards rushing in the second half and overtime. Swain had 128 yards and four scores for the Hurricanes.