Staff Photo: John Bohn Greater Atlanta Christian School players Cameron Norton (79), Kyle Scales (17) and Chris Bartolomei (85) listen to head coach Tim Hardy address the team after a 42-14 loss to Jefferson High School in a semi final state playoff game Friday.
JEFFERSON -- One drive took the hope away.
Coming out of the locker room and trailing Jefferson 27-14, GAC needed to stop the Dragons' attack. And the defense had shown it was capable. With less than three minutes to go before halftime, the Spartans had forced a big Jefferson punt to avoid falling behind two scores at halftime.
But Jefferson could not be stopped.
Not only did the Dragons open the second half with a touchdown, they did it with dominating poise. Over the next 8 minutes, 41 seconds, Jefferson drove 74 yards in 16 plays. The Dragons converted a third down and a pair of fourth downs, one with the help of a GAC offsides penalty on what was a missed field goal attempt.
When the drive ended, GAC trailed 35-14 and most of the third quarter was gone.
"That was a huge deal," GAC coach Tim Hardy said, following the eventual 42-14 loss in the Class AA state semifinals.
The time remaining mattered as much as the disparity in the score.
"That was terrific," Jefferson head coach T. McFerrin said of the drive. "We wanted to run the clock. I said, 'Let's don't get greedy.' That touchdown was huge."
Jefferson attempted one pass on the drive, splitting time running the ball between quarterback Bryant Shirreffs and two backs Wesley Simonton and Tristen Jackson. Between the three, the Dragons rolled down the field with a mix of speed (Simonton), power (Jackson) and poise (Shirreffs). Shirreffs carried the ball on the first down carry and capped the drive with the 7-yard score. On his fourth down carry, Shirreffs was hit short, but kept driving over the GAC defender.
"I guess, I ran over him, I'm not sure," Shirreffs said. "It kind of hurt, but we got a first down. I wasn't sure where I was, I was just trying to get a lot yards."
The quarterback ended the night with 128 yards rushing and two scores on the ground. He threw for two more.
"That was the biggest drive," Shirreffs said. "Huge, huge, huge. That was the biggest drive of the game for sure."
And the drive meant momentum.
Jefferson followed the score by holding GAC on fourth down at the goal line and by this time it was early in the fourth quarter.
"We knew we needed to respond and respond quickly," Hardy said. "We needed to do something and we sort of did that. But we needed to cash in when we were down there. We needed to score and we didn't."
And from there, only the clock kept the game going.
The 42 points allowed are the most this seasons by a GAC defense which had held opponents to under 25 during this historic playoff run. But against Jefferson, the Spartans struggled to get pressure on Shirreffs in the first half and allowed a total of 408 yard of offense. Jefferson was 5 of 11 on third down, but made up for it with a perfect 3 of 3 night on fourth-down conversions. Only three Dragon drives didn't end in scores. And GAC's offense, as it had done all season, couldn't keep up in the state seminfinals.
"They've got a good football team," Hardy said. "I am tremendously proud of our young men."