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Bulldoggs ready to get new era football started

POSTED: August 27, 2014 3:00 p.m.

The Heath Webb era officially starts at W. Clair Harris Stadium this Friday night as the Bulldoggs will hope to get this new chapter started on the right page with a win over Jefferson High School.

The Dragons of Jefferson (1-0, 0-0 Region 8-AAA) look like a traditional cupcake opener in one manner of speaking, given that this is their first season in Class-AAA after moving up from Region 8-AA, but they are no normal lower-division opponent. 

Jefferson is a top-ranked team according to most preseason polls, ranking as high as fifth in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Much of this aplomb comes from the fact that they return explosive offensive starters Evan Shirreffs at quarterback and T.J. Skelton, who is officially listed as an athlete though he will mostly see time as a wide receiver. 

Shirreffs spent much of last season on the sideline due to an injury, but in his six starts at quarterback he garnered some impressive numbers including 1,274 yards passing with 14 touchdowns and an impressive 87 completions on 139 attempts with just two interceptions. 

Skelton, the all-state honoree who filled in for Shirreffs at quarterback last year, earned nearly 700 yards combined between carries and receptions. He scored five touchdowns on the ground and six through the air.

Combined, these two seniors helped lead the Jefferson High School Dragons to an appearance in the state quarterfinals for the second consecutive season. Of course, the 2012 Dragons did even better as they walked away with a 31-14 state championship win over Calhoun in what was legendary coach Tom T. McFerrin’s final game as one of the most decorated and respected high school football coaches in the southeastern United States.

As a small note of trivia, McFerrin is the father of Winder-Barrow athletic director Rob McFerrin, highlighting a unique connection between the two schools.

McFerrin’s successor, Ben Hall, has already found some measurable success with the Dragons in his second season as they carved out a quality 50-14 win over former region rival Rabun County in Friday night’s season opener. 

The last time Jefferson played a team above their own classification came in a Sep. 2013 loss against Class-AAA North Hall 41-34. The week before, however, they trounced Class-AAA’s Jackson County 49-0. Jackson’s loss against Jefferson came just one week after their 26-21 season opening loss at Winder-Barrow.

The 2014 Bulldoggs look to be a vastly different team, though, as they already have one victory entering the season, even if it was just in a scrimmage. Even so, the 29-28 preseason win over South Forsyth must serve at least as a bit of a mental and emotional win, proving to this team that they can compete at a much higher level than they formerly thought.

While Jefferson brings in their veteran stars, including returning running back Sammy Williams who started for the first time since 2012 against Rabun County Friday night, Winder-Barrow will be letting loose a few new weapons in the season opener. 

The one most expected to shine may be running back CeCe Green, who sat behind Division I talent Chandon Sullivan last season and gathered just 216 yards for one touchdown in 2013, after his exceptional performance in the Bulldoggs’ spring game and the scrimmage against South Forsyth. 

Green tallied more than 280 yards with four scoring plays, including multiple runs of more than 50 yards, and he continued to look powerful against the War Eagles on Aug. 15 with 130 yards on just 19 carries in three quarters of play. 

As talented as Green is and as explosive as he should be for Winder-Barrow this year, the quarterback position may in turn provide some additional optimism for the Bulldogg faithful. Against South Forsyth, both Noah Chapman and Ryan Evans were able to score significant yards and at least one touchdown. 

Chapman tossed the ball for 61 yards and two touchdowns, racking up a 9-for-15 completion rate, while Evans was 3-for-9 with 31 yards and a touchdown. 

That should come as no surprise, though, as they both have a talented receiving corps to work with. Green helped with his three catches against South Forsyth for 14 yards and a touchdown, but Brandon Hayes, who was himself in the quarterback talks during spring, led the way with three catches for 31 yards and a score. 

In addition to Hayes and Green, Bradyn Randall had two catches for 16 yards while Jay Branch had three catches for 18 yards and a touchdown.

With Jefferson’s offensive prowess, the Bulldogg defense will need to bring their best game Friday night if they hope to win their second consecutive season opener against a team from Jackson County. 

Defensive leaders Joey Junius and Anthony Gates will anchor the defense with Gates on the line and Junius playing behind him, and both electrified in the Friday night scrimmage. Gates recorded a sack against South Forsyth and recovered a crucial fumble for the Doggs while Junius notched eight tackles. 

An intimidating Jefferson team will enter W. Clair Harris Stadium Friday night set on cementing their own return to the Dome and, at the very least, a playoff spot in 2014. Already starting out with a win under their belt, they will come in with some confidence that they know how to operate in a game situation. 

At the same time, Winder-Barrow’s fresh legs from a week off after the scrimmage and fresh eyes from practicing the things they need to work on may prove to be enough to get over any perceived advantage the already once-victorious Jefferson Dragons think they have.

Winder is also welcoming back the 1993 and 2003 football teams and will be recognizing them prior to Friday's kickoff.

Alumni from those teams are asked to arrive no later than 6:45 p.m. Friday night. There will also be a reception for returning players at 6:15 p.m. in the fieldhouse. 

 

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