In last year’s big Class 6A, District 8 tilt between Jefferson and Hillsborough, the Dragons won thanks to some last-minute heroics by defensive back Chavez Pownell. But Hillsborough quarterback Dwayne Lawson, a Miami commitment and the best player on the field, passed for 291 yards and ran for 124. That probably can’t happen again tonight if the Dragons want to win. But consider: Last year, Lawson had more than 280 yards (passing and rushing combined) against everyone but Armwood. He’s a tough dude to stop.
Depending on the D: The Dragons are equipped to stop Lawson thanks to a defensive backfield that is always one of the best around. This year’s group is no exception. Senior safeties Ernest Mills and Quinton Rogers, the heart and soul of the defensive backfield, were starters last year, and Jeremiah Baltrip, Jamarcus Harris and Randy Bradford saw plenty of time. The Dragons will rotate as many as six players in pass coverage, with not much of a dropoff. Even freshman Tyrese Spain is a contender to start games. Last week, he led the team with four passes defended and a fumble recovery. “He came in as a freshman and just started guarding people,” Lionel Bryant said. He should know. He coaches the wide receivers.
No fly zone: In the last 13 games it has played, Jefferson’s secondary has allowed only three teams to complete 50 percent of their passes, with some 10-for-35, 9-for-27, 9-for-24 and 3-for-15 performances mixed in there. Five teams threw for fewer than 100 yards, and no one passed for more than 200. And the Dragons have intercepted 15 passes in that span, while allowing just six touchdown passes. “We have a pretty good group,” Baltrip said.
Nice warmup: Last week, the Dragons sacked Alonso’s Chris Oladokun eight times. Defensive backs coach Jeremy Burnett attributed all eight of those to great coverage. He also said at least half of the 27 incomplete passes thrown were the direct result of excellent coverage, rather than bad throws. Oladokun doesn’t run as much as Lawson, but he is a scrambler. The Dragons were able to contain him and held the Ravens to 34 yards rushing overall. “I think that was a real good test for us,” Burnett said. Lawson, however, is much more dangerous with his legs and prone to burn defenses with a big run.
Take him down: Baltrip describes Lawson as slippery, and Burnett agrees. The key to the stopping him from passing for big yards will be bringing him down before he throws the ball. “We have to tackle him,” Burnett said. Given his choice, the Jefferson assistant would cage Lawson between the hashes and make him throw. And when he does? “It doesn’t matter to me where he throws it,” Burnett said. “I know once the ball is in the air, every one of my guys will run towards it and try to make a play.”