FAIRBURN, Ga. — For the first 12 minutes and one play, Jefferson could do no wrong.
For the rest of the 36 minutes, it seemed nothing went right for the Dragons in their Class 5A semifinal matchup with Creekside.
After Sammy Brown exploded for a 58-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter, the Dragons looked in control at 14-0. It would not last.
From there, the Seminoles outscored Jefferson 28-3 to rally for a 28-17 win and a trip to the finals at Mercedes Benz.
The vaunted Jefferson ground game, and Brown, in particular, piled up 85 yards on his first 7 carries. But the Creekside defense, which came in allowing just 11.9 points/game during a 10-game win streak, held Brown and the Dragons to just 56 yards over their final 19 carries for the game.
Jefferson coach Travis Noland said it was just a matter of missed opportunities.
“(Creekside) is a great football team. They made plays, and we didn’t. It’s as simple as that,” he said. “We had opportunities that we left out here, and you can’t do that in these kinds of games.”
It was almost a perfect start for Jefferson. Both defenses flexed their muscles to open the game, each stopping the offenses on their opening drives. But the Dragons (13-1) got the first huge break of the game when Seminoles’ punter Clifford Aylih dropped the snap and was swarmed under by the Dragons.
Two plays later, junior quarterback Gavin Markey found a wide-open Christopher Law across the middle on a play-action for a 19-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead.
The Jefferson defense shut down the Seminoles on their second drive, and then Brown exploded for his huge touchdown run that seemed to put Creekside on its heels.
But the Seminoles, and Vinson Berry in particular, finally found some rhythm. Berry connected with Eric Paul on a 41-yard pass and then hit Dylan Vickerson for an 18-yard touchdown pass to trim the lead to 14-7 with just over 7 minutes left in the first half.
Creekside stopped the Dragons on their next possession, and then Roderick McCrary tied the score six plays later with a 32-yard touchdown run. The Seminoles then got their first break of the game when Jefferson’s Talan Childress fumbled the ensuing kickoff.
Travis Terrell capped a quick 32-yard drive with a 3-yard scoring run on 4th-and-goal to give Creekside its first lead at 21-14 with just 2:22 left in the half.
All three drives were aided by key pass interference penalties by the Jefferson secondary.
The Dragons reclaimed some momentum going into the half, however, on a 39-yard field from Taylor McCall to pull within 21-17.
But if the offenses thought it was rough sledding in the first half, it was even tougher in the second half. Jefferson managed just 39 yards, three first downs, and threw two interceptions over their five second-half possessions.
Creekside got the only points after halftime on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Berry to Shane Kelly on the first play of the fourth quarter to extend the lead to 28-17.
“I don’t think there were any real adjustments by Creekside,” Noland said. “Creekside is a great football team. They have great speed, they played well, and we missed the opportunities we had. That’s it, really.”
Brown, a Clemson commit, finished with 114 yards on 17 carries in his final game. He closed out his senior season with 2,254 yards and 36 touchdowns rushing.
Berry was 14-of-22 for 180 yards and 2 TDs for Creekside. Kelly hauled in 8 catches for 90 yards, and McCrary ran for 94 yards on 16 carries for the Seminoles.