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Posted: Saturday, October 12th 2013 at 1:53am

Jefferson fights past determined Rabun, 26-20 in OT (Video)

By Morgan Lee Editor
click to enlarge
Jefferson's Antonio Strickland, left, gets wrapped up by the Rabun County defense on Friday in Jefferson.
JEFFERSON -- Banged up or not Jefferson football still knows how to win.

The Dragons showed as much on Friday, fighting back from a fourth quarter deficit to pull out a 26-20 overtime defeat of Rabun County in Jefferson.

The Dragons pieced together the tying drive with just over three minutes to play and then scored the only points of overtime, as back-up quarterback TJ Skelton -- thrust into a starting role due to injury -- starred late, notching both of the touchdowns.

After coming on in an emergency role in last week’s seven-point loss to Washington-Wilkes, Skelton rode a roller-coaster night -- one that ended in thrilling fashion, as the junior rushed for 119 yards and two scores while also passing for 114 yards and a touchdown.

“My heart was pounding, but I just went out there and tried to be a leader,” said Skelton, who was 11 of 24 through the air with one interception. “It was a lot of fun; I couldn’t ask for more.”

Neither could Dragons coach Ben Hall, who lauded Skelton’s performance.

“He did what we needed him to do. And he’s only going to get better,” Hall said of Skelton. “We’re so limited with only four days of preparation, but we got it done.”

A lot of that was also due to a stingy Dragons defense, which yielded just 217 yards to a Rabun offense that came in averaging 53 points and almost 500 yards per contest.

“We played well on defense, and that was a good team we faced tonight,” Hall said. “Our hats off to Rabun County and coach Lee Shaw his staff -- the improvement they’ve made from year one to two is phenomenal. They’re going to win a lot of games.”

For a while it looked as if that would include Friday’s contest, after the Wildcats defense made itself known. After solid play in the first half, allowing Jefferson just two scoring drives, the Wildcats pounced on four second half Jefferson turnovers -- including two third quarter fumbles that Rabun converted into touchdowns and a 20-13 lead. But the Dragons faced down the adversity, turning to Skelton’s legs to do much of the damage.

“We did face adversity and the kids responded,” Hall said. “We’re banged up in places and we’re putting the pieces together, but I’m so proud of them and the way they fought.”

Skelton’s three-yard run at the end of the fourth quarter knotted the contest 20-20. He then set up what could have been the game-winning field goal with four seconds remaining, but the 22-yard attempt flew just wide to send the game into overtime. But the Dragons weren’t bowed, scoring with another run from Skelton before stoning the Wildcats’ only possession of the extra frame.

“We had to come together, and we did that,” said Skelton, who helped the Dragons rush for 234 yards – Sammy Williams also added 49 yards on the ground.

Jefferson opened strong, taking advantage of a short Rabun County punt to march 35 yards for the game’s opening score. Skelton found Donnie Hatfield open over the middle for a 19-yard scoring strike with 8:00 left in the quarter and a 7-0 lead.

It was hardly the start of a shootout, however, as defense held sway for most of the half.

Rabun County finally picked up its first first down in the second quarter -- and proceeded to piece together a response on the scoreboard, quarterback Wes Holcombe (14 of 27 for 78 yards passing; 47 yards rushing) finding Hunter Sims for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 7:27 left in the half.

Jefferson fired right back, using key plays by Sammy Williams to move back in front, including a 1-yard dive over the pile for a 13-7 lead with 2:27 remaining (the point after attempt was blocked).

Each defense continued to hold sway after the interval -- just in a more electric manner.

The Dragons and Wildcats forced two turnovers apiece in the third quarter, Jefferson picking off two passes and Rabun pouncing on two Dragons fumbles. The difference came in that Rabun made the most of their takeaways, scoring after both to grab the momentum and the lead.

Wildcats defensive lineman Daniel Fonclara pounced on both Jefferson fumbles, scooping up the first and returning it 39 yards to the Dragons 3. Two plays later, Holcombe surged into the end zone to push the visitors ahead 14-13.

Fonclara’s second recovery came at the Dragons 33 and Rabun again took advantage, capping a short drive with a seven-yard scoring run from Dan Dailey (98 yards rushing). And while the PAT failed, the Wildcats surged ahead 20-13 with 3:09 left in the third.

Jefferson’s troubles continued into the fourth quarter, as another fumble killed a Dragons drive at the Wildcats’ 21, Rabun’s Jeremiah Brown recovering with 11:54 to play. Yet Jefferson’s defense would not allow that giveaway -- or a Wildcats interception on the Rabun 16 later in the quarter -- to decide the contest, stonewalling Rabun County’s offense and allowing Jefferson to get back into the game – which the Dragons did courtesy of Skelton’s legs.

Despite Skelton’s game-tying touchdown with just over three minutes left and the go-ahead score in overtime, the Jefferson defense needed one more stop -- and the Dragons got it with an exclamation point, sacking Holcombe on fourth and nine to seal the win and send Jefferson students and fans spilling onto the field in celebration.

After playing through a meat-grinder schedule early, the Dragons will now face three straight opponents with a combined three wins, starting with next week’s game at Oglethorpe County.

Rabun County will try to bounce back from its first loss next week at 8-AA leader Washington-Wilkes.

Rabun County...0....7...13....0....0 -- 20
Jefferson...........7....6....0....7....6 -- 26

First Quarter
JEFF -- Hatfield 19 pass from Skelton (Pankevich kick) 8:00, 7-0

Second Quarter
RC -- Sims 10 pass from Holcombe (Hernandez kick) 7:27, 7-7
JEFF -- Williams 1 run (kick blocked) 2:57, 13-7

Third Quarter
RC -- Holcombe 1 run (Hernandez kick) 5:13, 13-14
RC -- Dailey 7 run (kick failed) 3:09, 13-20

Fourth Quarter
JEFF -- Skelton 3 run (Pankevich kick) 3:28, 20-20

JEFF -- Skelton 11 run (kick failed) 26-20
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