The 2012 Jefferson team won the Class 2A state title, the only one in the Dragons’ storied history. But not even that team had the kind of dominance the 2020 squad is exerting over its competition.
The 2020 Dragons, led by a punishing ground game and a bruising defense, are quickly climbing up the program historical charts.
After a 10-0 regular season, which did include a pair of COVID-19 induced forfeits, the 2020 team became just the fourth Dragons' squad to post an undefeated regular season in school history. They’re just the second group in school history to win back-back region titles; they’re the fourth team in school history to win 12 or more games; and, the 12 straight wins are tied for the second-longest win streak in school history (16, 2012-2013; 12--2014 and 2020).
They will put all that on the line on Friday playing host to Carver-Columbus in the Class 4A quarterfinals of the Georgia High School Association playoffs in what should be a monumental battle at Memorial Stadium. You can hear the game live on FM 102.9 WDUN (Click to listen live).
AccessWDUN caught up with Jefferson coach Gene Cathcart to get his thoughts on this team and what should be one of the best matchups in the quarterfinal round in any classification.
QUESTION: Coach, thanks for taking some time with us. This is the first-ever meeting between the two programs. Does it help or hurt in preparation for either team when teams have never played each other? How important does film work become?
ANSWER: The most difficult thing to tell, and really until you have played, you really don’t know it, is on trying to determine how good the folks (a team) play are, especially when you are not familiar with them or anyone they play. Other than film both teams are flying a bit blind. But both these programs are well versed in the challenge of having played in so many big playoff games over the years.
QUESTION: Class 4A is loaded. But the home teams have dominated going 23-1 as a collective group in the first two rounds, and all eight region champs advanced to the Elite 8, which is the first time that has been done in any classification in the playoffs in nine years. Is there an explanation for that or is just about the individual teams themselves? How big of a factor is home field in the playoffs?
ANSWER: I think the GHSA did such a good job, and perhaps the 4A schools did as well, regarding protocols (COVID-19) virus-wise that maybe we all had time for the cream to rise to the top. It may also speak to the depth of the classification as the regions each were strong enough to send a champion No. 1 seed that had separated enough to not get upset. Those are just theories, but I do think it is pretty cool that we have a tournament of champions making up our Elite 8. Certainly home field has a great deal to do with that, and it is so important in the playoffs as familiarity is valued by young people as well as adhrering to routine. The home crowd probably doesn't hurt either.
QUESTION: Both offenses are in the top three and both defenses are in the top 6 in 4A. Do you see this as a high-scoring affair or should we expect a defensive slugfest?
ANSWER: These are always interesting to see how that plays out. What you hope is that you have a team built to be comfortable in any style game that unfolds. They (Carver) have a tremendous team and would not be undefeated if they didn't, and it is always important to see which team is able to impose their will on the other one and how that team reacts when a few punches are landed. One thing is certain this time of year with only No. 1 seeds and region champions left, and that is that most everyone still standing in the ring can expect to taste some of their own blood a bit and all these teams have not been made to do that very often, if at all this season. With heavyweights squaring off, both sides will deliver adversity and deal with adversity, make plays and have plays made against them -- and the one who flinches the least regarding both and makes the fewest mistakes is almost always the one not counting equipment afterwards.
QUESTION: The Tigers are a lot like y’all in that they look to run the ball first and have three players with 500 yards or more rushing. However, no one has been able to slow down your option attack and Malaki Starks looks like a man among boys on offense. It seems that whichever team gets the best line play on both sides overall will probably win. Will this game be won in the trenches, as they say?
ANSWER: No doubt almost every big game is decided on both sides of the line of scrimmage and this likely will be no exception. With both teams having so many weapons, whoever springs them and allows them to do what they do offensively, and limits those playmakers defensively, will be able to get into their comfort zone earlier.
QUESTION: When you have even matchups many times it can often times come down to special teams. Neither team has attempted a field goal all season. Is that something to be concerned about if the game is close at the end?
ANSWER: We are Pele [Brazilian soccer great from the 1960s and 70s] compared to Carver as they have only attempted 15 PATs as compared to our 61 PATs. With both teams scoring over 40 points a game, I would imagine we don’t expect it to come down to penalty kicks. But having said that, with Owen Bott’s improvement and Chase Johnson’s leg strength, we would not hesitate to trust either one of them to attempt a game-winner.
QUESTION: We knew this was going to be a solid team. But I'm sure this team has performed even better than many people thought. What areas have impressed you the most about this particular team?
ANSWER: Their unselfishness. We may have had to sell our offensive scheme to their mama’s and daddies, sell it at the barber shops and coffee shops, and sell it to our fans, but we never have had to sell it to this football team. We have great players -- Malaki, Jordan Perry, Kolton Jones, Kam Robinson, and several others -- who understand it makes us better when we distribute the football and spread the wealth and they get that it’s the quality of their touches, not the quantity, and how important it is that we block for each other. Defensively, they understand that we are better when we play more people and that we take advantage of our depth and of playing team, not individual, defense. They also understand the importance of special teams and value their involvement in that phase of the game. They are a special group with great chemistry and love for one another and they are a great joy in my life – not for what they do – but for who they are. I love (this team) with all my heart and cherish every moment I get to battle alongside them.