By Brian Jones
Calhoun quarterback Taylor Lamb has been a big reason the Yellow Jackets had won 29 consecutive games entering Saturday’s Class AA championship contest. But when the Yellow Jackets went up against Jefferson, it was the Dragons’ quarterback Bryant Shirreffs who stole the show as he led the Dragons to a 31-14 win and their first state title in school history.
“I’m so thankful for the fans for being here all year,” Shirreffs said when the team was presented with the state championship trophy. “We had our ups and downs, but it’s great to win a championship.”
The Dragons threw the first punch as running back Tristen Jackson scored on a one-yard run. The Yellow Jackets responded later in the quarter when Lamb threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Logan Walraven to tie the game at seven. That score was made possible after Dragons running back Isaiah Blake fumbled a pitch from Shirreffs that was recovered by Yellow Jackets linebacker Tristen Fuller.
But the turnover by the Dragons and the score by Calhoun would not phase Jefferson because they got the lead back in the second quarter when Shirreffs scored on a one-yard run. With the running by Shirreffs and running back Sammy Williams, the Dragons went 10 plays and 70 yards for the score.
The Dragons increased their lead to two scores before halftime when Shirreffs threw a 36-yard pass to receiver Chandler Thompson, leading to a one-yard run by Shirreffs.
The Yellow Jackets were able to cut the Dragons’ lead to 14 when Lamb threw a 78-yard touchdown pass to Tydus Curtis with 5:29 left in the third quarter. The score was set up by a Shirreffs’ interception.
The Yellow Jackets defense created another turnover when Thomson fumbled a reception from Shirreffs, recovered by J.P. Parker. But the Yellow Jackets could not capitalize as Lamb threw an interception to Micah Carpenter on the next play, resulting in yet another Shirreffs one-yard touchdown run to make the score 28-14 with 2:44 left in the third.
“He has been tremendous all year long,” Jefferson head coach T. McFerrin said of Shirreffs. “He’s put the team on his shoulders, especially in the playoffs, and he has carried us.”
Calhoun came into the game as one of the most high-powered offenses in the state, scoring 34 or more points in 13 of the team’s 14 prior games. But penalties and turnovers did the Yellow Jackets in and Calhoun finished the season 14-1 with its 29-game winning streak snapped. It had been the longest streak in the state prior to Saturday.
For Jefferson, the Dragons have won 14 consecutive games after losing to Commerce in the first game of the year. Not only this is the first state title in school history, it’s also the first state title since 1995 for McFerrin, who led Elbert County to the ultimate prize.
This is McFerrin’s fourth year at Jefferson and when asked if he thought he would be back in this position when he came out of retirement in 2009, he said no.
“Not really,” McFerrin said quickly. “But I’ll take it.”