BARNESVILLE -- Displaying the kind of determination with which they have come to be known, the Jefferson Dragons battled until the end but could not keep their title defense alive on Friday.
The Dragons overcame an early deficit to take a halftime lead but could not mount a second comeback in a 35-24 state quarterfinal loss at Lamar County.
Jefferson watched the Trojans (13-0) put up three straight second half touchdowns to take a 35-17 lead that -- combined with three turnovers -- derailed the Dragons' (10-3) hunt for a second straight Class AA crown.
The first turnover put Jefferson in a 7-0 hole on the opening possession, as Lamar County defensive back Qua Searcy picked off a Dragons pass and returned it for a touchdown.
Yet an Austin Pankevich field goal got Jefferson on the scoreboard at 7-3 -- until an 18-yard touchdown run from Lamar's Lance Austin made it 14-3.
Unbowed, the Dragons responded through Evan Shirreffs and Dalton Hill, who combined for a touchdown pass before Isaiah Blake staked Jefferson to a 17-14 halftime lead thanks to a two-yard scoring run.
Turnovers proved costly in the second half, however, as the Trojans used a fumble recovery to spark their go-ahead score in the third quarter -- Searcy catching a 31-yard touchdown pass. Lance Austin added an eight-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter before Lawrence Austin made it 35-17 on a 39-yard scamper.
Jefferson responded through another touchdown pass to Hill -- this one covering 80 yards -- but an onsides kick attempt failed and a desperation final possession ended in an interception to seal the outcome.
The Dragons' season is now complete. It was also Jefferson's last season in Class AA or at least two years, as they are due to move up into Class AAA for the next two school years.