JEFFERSON — Even for programs like Buford or Valdosta, knocking off a No. 1-ranked team on the road is akin to say, Vanderbilt beating Alabama: it just isn’t done much.
So, when Jefferson went to Tiger last week and collected a 28-14 win over the Class 2A top-ranked Wildcats, it was more than just a win. It was a first.
The Dragons had gone on the road six previous times in their history to take on a No. 1 team -- as far back as 1963 for their first shot and the most recent in the 2013 Class 2A state quarterfinals. All six times they came home empty.
But last week’s impressive takedown of Rabun County finally put them in that rarified air of team’s that actually knocked the King off the hill. It marked the Dragons’ first-ever ROAD win over a top-ranked team in program history in 475 total victories since its inception in 1947.
The Dragons had two previous victories over top-ranked teams -- 31-14 over Calhoun in 2012 for the Class 2A state title in the old Georgia Dome; 10-0 over Commerce in 1982 at Memorial Stadium. But never a road win.
“I didn’t know that,” current Jefferson coach Gene Cathcart said. “That’s pretty cool. But it shows you just how hard of a thing it is to do. To beat a No. 1 team -- and I don’t care what level you’re looking at -- you have to play well in all phases and your star players have to play to their elite status. It's even harder on the road.
“We did both of those things, I thought. Our defense really did about as good a job as could do on a guy like (Rabun County junior quarterback and South Carolina-commit) Gunnar and that offense, which is explosive. (Our main stars) Malaki (Starks), Kolton Jones, and the rest of the guys on offense, especially the guys up front, really did a nice job of controlling the game. Our special teams did not make any mistakes. When you get everything working together, you have the potential.”
But Cathcart, who was not with the program seven years ago, referenced the 2013 game -- a 35-24 quarterfinals loss to Lamar County -- as to why last week’s win will be a special one. That team was coached by current Flowery Branch coach Ben Hall, who later added Cathcart to his staff.
“I’ve heard about that game over the years,” he said. “Jefferson had about as good a team as the year before and a group they thought could get it done. But it didn’t work out that way.
“Team’s are ranked No. 1 for a reason. They’ve earned it in many cases. They’re used to being a target and know how to play in those situations. Those teams are no flukes. I think that was kind of the case in that game (against Lamar).”
The Dragons currently sit No. 2 in Class 4A, despite the big win. Perennial 4A power Marist occupies the top spot, as the War Eagles have all season. Now, Cathcart says the biggest challenge is to make sure last week’s win doesn’t turn into what he calls a ‘too early of a banquet win.’
“Early successes are good for scrapbooking and nothing else,” he said. “This was a big win but if we don't build on it no one will remember it. These kinds of games can turn into a too early of a banquet win if you lose in the playoffs.
“The goal is to not let that happen. In high school the idea is to get into the playoffs with the best seeding possible. That’s our goal. Again, this was a great win for us and the program. But we have another game this week, another one after that, then the region, and hopefully the playoffs. We’re going to put this behind us as quick as we can.”
It may be gone soon, but we doubt it will be forgotten anytime soon.