TAMPA — Close playoff games leave a smile on only one team's face, and Jefferson coach Mike Fenton was glowing.
Fenton gathered his team after another dramatic Jefferson win Friday — another second-half comeback — and another night that makes anyone who has seen this Dragons team believe it might be up to something special.
"Next week," he told his team. "Region championship."
The Dragons' 20-15 victory over district rival Lakewood at Sam Horton Stadium propelled Jefferson to its first region final since 2004, when the Dragons advanced all the way to the state title game.
"It's playoff football at its finest," Fenton said. "I had a feeling it would be a lot closer than the first game, and it was. When you're playing for your playoff life, both teams, in the second half, really came to play."
But it was the way the Dragons won — with a vaunted rushing attack and an opportunistic defense — that made this victory an impressive one.
"The sky's the limit right now," said Jefferson quarterback Quentin Williams said, who threw for 225 yards on 11 for 21 passing.
The Dragons sputtered through the first half, riddled by penalties — including a go-ahead touchdown pass late in the second quarter negated by a holding call — and trailed the Spartans 15-13.
Jefferson came out in the second half and quickly took the lead, marching 81 yards on just six plays — all running plays — capped by LaDarius Moye's 28-yard touchdown run through the heart of the Spartans defense.
"We were a little sluggish in the first half, but in the second half we came out and showed what kind of team we were," Fenton said. "I had a talk with them at the half. They came out with their chinstraps buckled and ran it right to them."
Star receiver Andre Davis, who injured his ankle in the first half, wasn't a factor, but junior Chris Moore stepped up with 124 yards on three catches. Demetrius Russell paced the ground game with 74 yards on 18 carries.
The Dragons defense also clamped down, limiting Lakewood to just two second-half first downs. But Jefferson's defense made its biggest play on Christian Calle's interception with 4:04 remaining just two plays after the Dragons fumbled in their own territory as the game clock crept under five minutes.
"Jefferson didn't beat us," Lakewood coach Cory Moore said. "It was just small things on us. In the second half, not being able to put drives together, it hurt us."
Jefferson, a team that has thrown for more than 3,000 yards, made just three pass attempts in the second half. Two of those passes came on the victory-sealing drive, when Williams rolled out and tossed to Fred Overstreet for a pair of first downs to secure the win.
"We've been through so much since January," Williams said. "It was a team effort, especially that defense. They gave us the ball back when we needed it. We all came out and played hard.
"We don't want to go home."