JEFFERSON — If there’s one thing Jefferson coach Gene Cathcart was correct on about Appling County, it was the massive Pirate line of scrimmage.
But all of his doubts and questions coming into the second-round Class 3A playoffs were erased as his option offense and nasty defense wore down the Pirates in a 28-7 win Friday night at Memorial Stadium.
"It's a special group," Cathcart said. "They have such good leadership distributed throughout all four grades. They've just bought into what we do. It's not sexy or will get us any speaking engagements, but it fits our kids, our toughness. They play with tremendous heart. We always talk about player/player, coach/player, coach/coach chemistry and this group certainly has that."
Jefferson quarterback Colby Clark took matters into his own hands, churning out 126 yards and four touchdowns, including a 33-yard touchdown run on a 4th-and-1 to spark the Dragons' offense and give them a lead, 14-7, in the third quarter.
"That fourth down, Mike Dolittle, Matt Stephenson, Ken Ray and Justin Myer did a good job of getting us in a good play," Cathcart said. "They really sold out to what they thought we were going to do. When we broke the line of scrimmage, Colby wasn't going to be denied. That was huge."
The first meeting between the two schools produced what most might have expected between two of the state’s top offenses and defenses in the opening half -- a 7-7 tie.
"I was a little worried at the half," senior quarterback Colby Clark said. "We needed something in the second half. I said we can't quit, no matter what happens, we're going down with a fight. And that's what we did."
The second half was a different story, however, as Jefferson showed why they have the top rushing attack and No. 3 defense in the state, scoring 21 unanswered points and racking up 246 total yards of offense while holding Appling County to just 167 total yards, 48 in the second half.
"They adjusted a few things trying to get us from running on the outside," Clark said. "So we just ran straight at them with Kade (McNally) and me. So we just pounded that over and over and just hit them where they were weak."
McNally ended the night with 64 yards on 10 carries.
The Dragons' defense opened the second half fast and furious, rushing Appling quarterback Jeremiah Holmes to force a fumble and a 4th down.
On the next series, Clark converted the 4th-and-1 for a 33-yard TD run. The score began the Dragons' charge on offense.
"It was just two heavyweight boxers that just kept getting in body blows," Cathcart said. "They fell behind. They would rather be running the ball so they had to press and get out of their comfort zone. If you would have told me at halftime, if we get four possessions, we'll win this football game."
The Dragons got five possessions in the second half with Clark cashing in three of them for TDs -- 33, 1, 3.
"It's just one of those things, it's not sexy," Cathcart said. "Boring and practicing over Thanksgiving is fine with us."
By virtue of the GHSA coin toss earlier this week, the Dragons will go on the long road to Crisp County next week. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.
"Certainly we know that's a long road trip, but what a great opportunity for our guys," Cathcart said. There's something special about practicing over Thanksgiving. A team's legacy of being able to practice over Thanksgiving is really just a special thing."
APP -- Jeremiah Holmes 2 run (Carlos Escalante kick), 5:29
JHS -- Colby Clark 2 run (Levin Jones kick), 2:56
JHS -- Clark 33 run (Jones kick), 6:22
JHS -- Clark 1 run (Jones kick), 2:29
JHS -- Clark 3 run (Jones kick), 4:20