TAMPA — The Jefferson Dragons were re-living an 11-month-old nightmare riddled with lousy shotgun snaps and lousier field position. Benefiting yet again was Hillsborough, the familiar nocturnal antagonist.
Only this year, the Dragons (2-0, 1-0) woke up in time.
Scoreless at halftime, Jefferson rallied behind senior quarterback Deiondre Porter for a 28-23 triumph on Friday night. The Dragons earned a spot in the forefront of the Class 6A, District 8 playoff picture and avenged a 36-28 loss to Hillsborough on Oct. 5, 2012.
Jefferson led that game, 21-0. The Dragons are 7-0 since.
“I can wash it away,” said Porter, who finished with more than 300 total yards for the second game in a row. “Don’t have to think about it.”
Porter’s 8-yard jump ball to 6-foot-4 classmate Ventell Bryant on fourth and 5 gave Jefferson a 22-15 lead with 1:49 to play. Four plays later, senior Chavez Pownell sealed things with an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown.
“(The receiver) was running a lazy out route, and I felt like I could jump the route,” Pownell said. “I took my three steps that my coaches always teach me and I jumped the route.”
The rally stood in glaring contrast to a forgettable first half, in which Porter watched three snaps sail over his head, including one into the back of his end zone to give Hillsborough (0-1, 0-1) a 2-0 lead.
The other two, on consecutive first-half plays, knocked Jefferson out of scoring position after it had reached Hillsborough’s 17.
“Since last year at this time when we played this game, this has burned inside of us,” said Dragons coach Jeremy Earle, quarterback of Hillsborough’s 1996 state runnerup team.
“So to see us win this game in the similar fashion we lost it last year, was such a great turnaround and such a great testament to these young men and their character and how far we’ve come.”
Jefferson’s rally upstaged an equally monstrous effort from Porter’s counterpart, Hillsborough junior Dwayne Lawson (391 total yards).
After Porter’s 1-yard TD run gave Jefferson a 14-8 lead with 7:37 to go in the third, Lawson engineered a 17-play drive, capped by his 1-yard sneak on fourth and goal. Lawson converted three times on fourth down (one passing, two rushing) on the drive.
Lawson provided Hillsborough with a final gasp with seven seconds to go when his bomb bounced off a Jefferson defender into Michael Hampton’s hands for a 53-yard TD. The ensuing onside kick was mishandled and went out of bounds.
“(Lawson) gave us all we wanted,” Earle said.