JEFFERSON — After what appeared to be a lackluster finish to the regular season, Jefferson coach Gene Cathcart had a message to all those who have been wondering what was wrong with the Dragons.
“Their coach is short, fat, and bald. Other than that, we’re just fine,” he said after the Dragons held off White County 29-13 Friday night at Memorial Stadium in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs.
“People are wanting to compare this team to last year or the 2012 (state championship) team. This is a different team. All I know is that we’re 9-2 now and we’re 30 seconds and one drive from being undefeated. And, we get to play again next week.”
Jefferson dropped a disappointing 43-29 decision to St. Pius in what turned out to be the deciding game for the region championship and then narrow wins over Stephens County and Oconee County had fans worried as they opened the 2017 playoffs.
Those naysayers’ concerns probably grew even more when White County got an electrifying 83-yard touchdown run from Kaleb Crane on the opening play of the game to grab the quick lead.
“It wasn’t the kind of start we wanted but I was proud of how our guys responded,” Catchcart said. “We knew they were going to give us a game and they did.”
The Jefferson offense answered right back on their first drive when Justin Cole capped an 8-play, 72-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown run. The Dragons then took an 8-7 lead when Colby Wood ran in a 2-point conversion after the Warriors were called for offsides on the extra point attempt. They never trailed again.
Crane’s opening run typified his season as he motored around left end, ran over one Dragon defender, and then broke free to outrace the rest of the Jefferson defense for a stunning 7-0 lead just 24 seconds into the game. He finished with 193 yards on 32 carries.
After Jefferson reclaimed the lead, the Warriors went to work again mounting a long 18-play drive that chewed up 7:48 of the clock. But it stalled at the Jefferson 33 after Crane was stuffed on two runs and then two J. Ben Haynes passes fell incomplete as they turned it over on downs.
Jefferson used that momentum to extend its lead to 15-7 with a 21-yard pass from Bryce Moore to Wood that finished off an 11-play drive with 7:55 left in the half.
The White County offense mounted another long drive that saw the Warriors move to the Jefferson 1 with just under 20 seconds left. A wild sequence then ended the half with Jefferson still clinging to its lead.
Haynes was stopped in bounds for no gain on a sprint left to the pylon and then, while in the shotgun formation, he was called for intentional grounding with under 10 seconds left resulting in a 10-second runoff to end the half with the Warriors at the Dragons 1.
White County coach Tim Cokely said they executed exactly how he wanted. They just didn’t get that last yard.
“We ran that sequence the way we’ve run it many times but we didn’t get in the end zone and then we made the mistake there (at the end of the half),” Cokely said. “Obviously you want to get points there but we still felt like we were in good position.”
The Warriors opened the second half with an onsides kick and recover it at the Jefferson 40. But on the second play Jefferson’s Addison Clay picked off a Haynes pass at the 10 and returned it to the Dragons 38.
On the ensuing drive Moore connected twice with Sammy Elegreet, including a key 13-yard strike to the White County 9, and then Wood finished it off on the next play for a 22-7 lead.
The Warriors used another long drive on their next possession to pull within 22-13 on a 5-yard Crane scoring run with 11:12 left but instead of kicking an extra point Cokely elected for a 2-point pass that was swatted down by Aaron Hall.
The Dragons needed just four plays to seal it. Two Wood runs, a 41-yard pass from Moore to Elegreet, and a 20-yard blast up the middle by Wood made it 29-13 with 9:34 left.
“We just made too many mistakes and I made of couple of calls in the second half that I shouldn't've so I’ll take the blame,” Cokely said. “But these guys had a great season and got a look at what the playoffs are about. Hopefully we can build on this for next season.”
Jefferson (191 yards) was outrushed by Crane but Moore was a stellar 7-of-9 for 118 yards and one touchdown. Wood had 148 yards rushing for the Dragons.
Haynes, a freshman, finished 13-of-21 for 115 yards and one interception for White County. He and the entire Warriors offense was harassed by Jefferson linebacker Colby Clark, who piled up 18 tackles for the Dragons.
Jefferson now will turn its attention to Region 6-AAAA champion Ridgeland, which demolished Chapel Hill 63-7 in its first round matchup, in next week's Sweet 16.
“We’re going to enjoy this one for a day and then we’ll get to work on next week,” Catchcart said.
White Co.....7.....0....0....6 -- 13
Jefferson.....8.....7....7....7 -- 29
W -- Crane 83 run (Bardenwerper kick) 7-0, 11:36
J -- Cole 9 run (Wood run) 8-7, 8:36
J -- Wood 21 pass from Moore (Kilgore kick) 15-7, 7:55
J -- Wood 9 run (Kilgore kick) 22-7, 7:33
W -- Crane 5 run (pass failed) 22-13, 11:12
J -- Wood 20 run (Kilgore kick) 29-13, 9:34