JEFFERSON, Ga. — Jefferson coach Travis Noland told Sammy Brown on Wednesday that he needed to eat his spinach before Friday night's showdown with seventh-ranked Hiram.
Brown ate a truckload of it.
The senior Clemson commit destroyed Hiram rushing for 355 yards and four touchdowns to lead Jefferson to a 42-21 win over the Hornets in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs Friday night at home.
The Dragons will travel to Harris County on Friday in the quarterfinals. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.
Oh, and he passed for a touchdown, too, a 9-yard toss to Zay Minish on the Dragons' first drive of the third quarter.
Brown scored on touchdown runs of 80, 42, 48 and 69.
"I told him before our walkthrough on Wednesday that he needed to eat his spinach because we needed him to be strong," Noland said. "He said, Coach, you can count on me. I think as the stakes got higher tonight, his level of play got higher."
But Brown is as humble as they come. He took no credit and gave all of it to his offensive line and teammates.
"I feel like all those rushing touchdowns I had, I didn't even get touched," he said. "So I don't think it's much credit to me as much as it is for my offensive line. I thought they blocked really well."
Brown opened the game with an electrifying 80-yard dash for pay dirt in the first quarter. It was after Hiram drove down and missed a 42-yard field goal.
Brown scampered around the right side of the line and took off like a fighter jet down the Hiram sideline for a touchdown.
But it wasn't all roses and ice cream for the Dragons in the first half. It was another lackluster performance after Brown's touchdown.
Hiram's Anthony Pittman scooped a Jefferson fumble and rambled 53 yards to tie the game with 9:15 left, and the Hornets grabbed the lead on a Ryan Strickland 35-yard TD pass to Chase Tyler with 7:24 left.
But Hiram had a chance to make a kill shot late in the first half that would have put them up two scores going into halftime. The Hornets were driving until Ryan Strickland's pass bounced from Walter Matthews's shoulder pads into the air. Brown snatched the ball and returned it to the Hornets' 31-yard line with 7 seconds left in the half.
The play averted disaster for the Dragons.
"We told them the turnover before the half kept us in the game," Noland said. "We told them we were one score from tying the game and were going to blow it open."
The Dragons did blow it open in the second half.
"The biggest thing in the locker room [at halftime] was just slow down," Brown said. "We got to execute, and that's kind of what we did in the second half."
The Dragons executed like a well-oiled machine in the second half, opening the half with another 80-yard march for a touchdown. Brown had 74 yards, including a 42-yard score with 10:50 to tie the game.
"We got that score in three plays coming out of halftime and got some momentum going," Noland said. "But once we adjusted, we were pretty good at finding where the holes and the seams were, and we did that in the second half. I'm just proud of how they fought back to find a way to win."
Not only did the offense respond in the second half, but the Jefferson defense continued making plays.
De'Shaun Keith also got in on the action, picking off Strickland on Hiram's next drive and returning it 44 yards to the Hiram 30. After a personal foul penalty, the Dragons scrimmaged from the Hiram 15-yard line, and two plays later, Brown hit Zay Minish on a double pass play for the 9-yard TD to give the Dragons their first lead of the game, 21-14 with 10:05 to go
After that, it was game over. Jaden Butts blocked a field goal on Hiram's next drive.
Gavin Markey, who didn't play most of the second quarter due to an injury, came back in the game midway through the third quarter and connected with Talan Childress on a 65-yard bomb for a touchdown to cash in the blocked FG with 3:26 left.
"Gavin came in and made it made two huge plays, one on the touchdown pass and a third down conversion on a huge scramble," Noland said. "It was a great team effort. We had a lot of guys tonight show a lot of toughness."
Then the defense stepped up again on Hiram's next drive after the Hornets drove it down to the Jefferson 21-yard line, but the defense held thanks to Aiden Jackson, who batted down Strickland's pass on 4th-down-and-five to get the ball back.
Brown struck again twice- a 48-yard TD and a 69-yard TD.
"We got to try to get healthy over the next four days," Noland said. "We got a bunch of guys beat up, but that's what happens when you play grown men. So, we're excited to keep playing, and we'll just see what we can come up with for next week."