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Posted: Saturday, September 14th 2013 at 2:59am

North Hall runs way to thrilling, 41-34 defeat of Jefferson (Video)

By Morgan Lee Editor
click to enlarge
North Hall's Isaac Seid, right, knocks away a pass intended for Jefferson's Chandler Thompson in the Trojans 41-34 win on Friday in Jefferson.
JEFFERSON -- Last year it was one yard -- this year it was drive after physical drive that proved the difference.

In 2012, Jefferson halted a last-ditch touchdown attempt from North Hall to deny the Trojans in Gainesville. On Friday, North Hall was not to be denied, grabbing a second half lead and answering charge after charge to knock off the Dragons 41-34 in Jefferson.

The Trojans put up two fourth quarter touchdowns -- just enough to see off Jefferson’s three-score surge over the final 12 minutes. And North Hall did it in typical Trojans fashion, grinding it out on the ground, rushing for 422 yards -- including 120 and two rushing touchdowns from quarterback Andrew Smith. Brannon Dyer also carried for 101 yards, while Zac Little added 94.

“I couldn’t be any prouder of the way our kids just kept fighting and coming up with answers,” Trojans coach Bob Christmas said. “Jefferson’s a great team with a lot of pride, and we knew we wouldn’t get out of here without a battle.”

Indeed, the Dragons (2-1) kept the Trojans (3-0) on their toes, putting up 369 yards of their own but could not get the ball back after scoring in the critical fourth quarter, watching North Hall recover three late onside kick attempts.

“That was just huge for us,” Christmas said after watching his team hold tight during the onside kick attempts – helping to offset five fumbles, three lost, throughout the contest.

“Jefferson’s a hard-hitting team, and I think that may have had something to do with (the fumbles), but we handled the pressure great,” Trojans running back Little said. “I like it better when we have some pressure. And the offensive line was opening some holes out there, and we were just running hard.”

Little certainly ran hard on his third quarter touchdown run, which appeared to give North Hall some breathing room at 27-14, but the defending Class AA champs were not about to let the Trojans off the hook and answered every score from there -- including three fourth quarter touchdowns: a two-yard touchdown from Isaiah Blake, a four-yard touchdown pass from Evan Shirreffs to Tristen Jackson and a 23-yard scoring strike from Shirreffs to T.J. Skelton.

The last touchdown strike -- with 55 seconds remaining -- gave Shirreffs 296 yards passing on the night, completing 20 of 41 attempts for three scores. Skelton also finished with seven catches for 129 yards and two scores, while Jackson rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown, along with catching four passes for 52 yards and a score.

North Hall wasn’t interested in seeing if Shirreffs could manufacture a fourth touchdown strike, however, snagging the ensuing onside kick and kneeling on the ball as time drained away.

“I remember losing to them by that one yard last year, and that put a bad taste in our mouths,” Little said. “This is big for us.”

Both teams went on to big things after last year’s contest – North Hall reaching the Class AAA semifinals and Jefferson claiming its first state title – and both hope to do so again in 2013. And by the way things started Friday, it was clear that both teams came in focused on their toughest contests of the season so far.

Jefferson got things going on its first possession, converting two fourth downs, including a fourth and 10 for a 30-yard touchdown strike from Shirreffs to Skelton for a 7-0 lead.

North Hall’s offense also found an early rhythm, however, answering the drive with a 33-yard scoring bomb of its own, Smith finding Lee Shelton wide open down the middle for the tying score with 6:48 left in the quarter. It was Smith’s only pass attempt of the night -- aside from a two-point conversion throw later in the contest – and proved a perfect foil for North Hall’s battering rushing attack.

The fireworks continued into the second quarter, as Jefferson pulled back ahead on a two-yard plunge from Jackson for a 14-7 lead with 10:59 remaining in the half.

The Trojans continued to roll up yards -- out-gaining Jefferson 237-201 in over the first 24 minutes -- but didn’t help themselves, fumbling away twice inside the Dragons 11-yard line in the first half. Yet North Hall held on to answer right before the interval, Destin Bennett diving into the end zone from two yards. Jefferson blocked the point after attempt to keep hold of a 14-13 lead at the half.

It wouldn’t last long into the second half.

Smith staked the Trojans to their first lead on an untouched 27-yard touchdown run just 1:21 into the restart -- but North Hall could only pull ahead 19-14 after a failed two-point run. And despite forcing a punt on the next series, the Trojans produced another misstep, fumbling away a booming kick to give Jefferson possession at the North Hall 12.

The Trojans held on through the adversity, however, forcing a turnover on downs to maintain their momentum. Zac Little only added to that late in the quarter on a seven yard scoring run that, along with a two-point run from Brannon Dyer pushed the visitors in front 27-14.

But as this game has proven over the past three seasons -- it was never going to be that easy. And, on cue, Jefferson fought back into the contest, 27-21 on Blake’s two-yard surge into the end zone with 11:24 left to play. From there the game see-sawed, but North Hall’s third quarter charge and sure hands in the fourth quarter ensured it would never lose its advantage.

The Trojans now head into a bye week before taking on Dawson County on Sept. 27 at home.

Jefferson will also take a week off before facing Greene County in its Region 8-AA opener on Sept. 27.

NORTH HALL....7....6...14....14 -- 41
JEFFERSON....7....7....0....20 -- 34

First Quarter
JHS -- Skelton 30 pass from Shirreffs (Pankevich kick) 9:26, 7-0
NHHS -- Shelton 33 pass from Smith (Dennis kick) 6:48, 14-0

Second Quarter
JHS -- Jackson 2 run (Pankevich kick) 10:59, 14-7
NHHS -- Bennett 2 run (kick blocked) :30, 14-13

Third Quarter
NHHS -- Smith 27 run (run failed) 10:39, 14-19
NHHS -- Little 7 run (Dyer run) 2:29, 14-27

Fourth Quarter
JHS -- Blake 2 run (Pankevich kick) 11:24, 21-27
NHHS -- Bennett 1 run (Tucker pass from Smith) 8:37, 21-35
JHS -- Jackson 4 pass from Shirreffs (kick failed) 4:58, 27-35
NHHS -- Smith 23 run (kick blocked) 1:25, 27-41
JHS -- Skelton 21 pass from Shirreffs (Pankevich kick) :55, 41-34
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