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Friday July 3rd, 2015 11:42AM

Jefferson defense ready to spark another title run?

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
JEFFERSON at HEARD COUNTY
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Staples Stadium, Franklin
-- JEFFERSON (9-2, No. 2 seed Region 8-AA): Defeated Westminster 28-0 last week in the first round
-- HEARD COUNTY: (10-1, No. 1 seed Region 5-AA): Defeated Pepperell 27-14 last week in the first round
-- WINNER PLAYS: Lamar County vs. Thomasville winner in quarterfinals
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JEFFERSON -- Jefferson knows all about championship football after last season's magical run to the Class AA state title.

The Dragons know you need a little bit of luck to go with the talent. They also know that the old adage of "defense wins championships" is more than just a saying.

The 2012 team was known primarily as an offensive powerhouse behind MaxPreps All-American quarterback Bryant Shirreffs. Lost in all the hoopla, however, was the tenacious play of the defense, which held four of its playoff opponents to 14 points or less on the way to the title

But the losses of several key elements, including heart-and-soul Wesley Simonton, left some wondering at the beginning of the 2013 season if the Dragons had enough left on defense to defend their title.

After last week's 28-0 whitewash of Westminster in the first round of the Class AA playoffs, there are signs that this year's squad may be as good, if not better, than last year. The 2012 squad allowed 114 points in its first 11 games compared to 119 this season. But, the current group already has five shutouts compared to just two all of last season.

Only, try finding a dominating star among the current unit.

"I call them the no-name defense," said Jefferson coach Ben Hall, referencing the 1972 Miami Dolphins group given that moniker for its lack of star power despite leading the NFL in many defensive categories.

"There are no real stars like last year. We lost a lot of good players but we felt we had a lot of younger guys that could step up for us. The coaches have done a good job of putting guys in the right places and having great preparation every game," Hall said.

The Dragons (9-2) will need another stellar performance this week when they travel to Franklin (about 20 minutes southwest of Newnan) to take on Region 5-AA champ Heard County.

The Braves (10-1) are averaging 43.4 points a game during a current 10-game win streak and have scored 40 or more points seven times and 53 or more four times. Junior running back Duranta Dunson is a big weapon and has already broken the school record for rushing running behind offensive lineman and UGA commit Jake Edwards.

But, Jefferson will counter with a defense that pitched its fifth shutout of the season last week and has allowed more than 21 points just once (41 to North Hall) this season.

And, just as Hall and his staff predicted, the defense has thrived with several underclassmen. Juniors Trent Sorrells, Trad Porter, and Kendrick Robinson and sophomore Taylor Wilkes have been tremendous complements to seniors Hannon Price and Tyler Bowen.

"The defense has been playing at a very high level. They really play well together and are fun to watch," Hall said. "You have to be able to play defense to win (region and state) titles and I think this group has improved as the season has gone on. And we've really needed the defense to step up with all the injuries we've had to the offense."

The main injury was to junior quarterback Evan Shirreffs, who went down in the Washington-Wilkes game with a broken thumb. He dressed out last week against Westminster but did not play. Hall said Shirreffs will suit up for Heard County but will not start.

Junior T.J. Skelton, who has started the last six games in place of Shirreffs, will get the start for Jefferson.

"T.J. has done a very nice job for us and there is a chemistry on offense right now that is very good," Hall said. "We would like to work Evan back in but the circumstances of the game will dictate how much action he sees."

The Dragons have not seen any drop off on offense no matter who is under center. They averaged 38.4 points the first four games with Shirreffs and have averaged 45 points with Skelton.

The Braves defense will certainly give the Jefferson offense a challenge. Since yielding 34 points in their only loss to Class AAA Callaway in their season opener, they have not allowed more than 21 points in any game and have allowed just 10.6 points a game during their win streak.

"Heard County is a very, very tough team," Hall said. "We will have to play well on defense and find a way to get some points. They don't give up much."

But Hall said the two teams are very similar, which could play to the Dragons' favor.

"When you have teams that are alike, the line play on both sides and turnovers usually decide things. Our lines have been playing very well and we're not turning the ball over much," he said. "If we can keep that up, I like our chances."

The one thing Hall said they have not discussed is keeping their longest-ever playoff win streak (6) going.

"We haven't mentioned it and I don't think it even registers with the kids," he said. "That stuff doesn't mean much, really. We're playing Heard County this week and whatever happened before will not have any bearing on this week.

"We just try to take the same approach every week no matter where we are in the season. It worked well for us last year so hopefully the same kind of focus will keep things going for us this year."

NOTES: Jefferson is battle-tested in the playoffs as it continues its drive to defend its Class AA state title. Take away the 51 points in a wild triple-overtime win last year against Fitzgerald, the Dragons have not allowed more than 14 points in their last six playoff game. However, the Dragons have never won a road playoff game. They are 0-11 in their history. ... Heard County is trying to reestablish its program. The Braves have not advanced past the second round since 1990. They are just 2-6 in their last eight playoff games going back to 2007.
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