PENSACOLA — Seven hours from home, the Jefferson offense was the lead story on the local newspaper's sports page Friday morning.
The Dragons came to Pensacola hoping this would be the last leg — albeit a long one — to the Class 3A state championship. Junior-laded Jefferson had tackled every obstacle placed in its path the past three months — halftime deficits, the road and the cold — always emerging victorious, chip still firmly on its shoulder.
But as the rain began to fall at Jim Scoggins Stadium, so did the tears for Jefferson as the Dragons' dream season ended on a cold night in the Panhandle.
Fifty years after Pensacola ended Jefferson's season en route to a state championship the Tigers did it again, boasted by a stellar defense that has allowed just six points in four playoff games and dealt the Dragons their only shutout of the year, 20-0.
The Dragons (11-2) committed six turnovers — four interceptions, two fumbles — and turned the ball over on downs twice, unable to muster any offense after their opening drive.
"We probably turned the ball over tonight more than we did all year," Jefferson coach Mike Fenton said. "I'm proud of my guys. They've come a long way.
"We'll be back next year. I'll guarantee you that. The bad thing about the state playoffs, unless you win it all you lose your last game. We knew that going in. It hurts, but we'll get over it."
The Tigers clamped down on Jefferson's dynamic duo of quarterback Quentin Williams and receiver Andre Davis. Pensacola defensive back Damarious Randall intercepted Williams three times, including backbreaking bookend picks at the beginning and end of the game.
Jefferson drove down the field on the game's opening drive to the Pensacola 9-yard line before Randall picked off a pass in the end zone that was tipped twice.
"We had a receiver knocked down and we thought it was pass interference," Fenton said. "He got knocked on his back and that changed the momentum of the whole game."
The Dragons reached Pensacola territory just three times the remainder of the game, but couldn't punch it in, trailing by a touchdown most of the game. A fake punt deep pass to Davis failed early in the second half and Jefferson couldn't take advantage of a 52-yard bomb to Chris Moore in the fourth quarter when the Dragons couldn't score after a first down at the 13-yard line. Williams, who has made his living moving in the pocket, was sacked eight times.
"We hurt ourselves in this game," said Moore, who had a game-high 87 yards on four receptions. "We weren't picking up our blocks. We missed easy touchdowns. We beat ourselves."
The Tigers closed the game scoring a pair of touchdowns on Jefferson turnovers in the final two minutes. First, Cordivido Grice recovered a fumble and returned it 13 yards then Randall snagged Williams' final pass and returned it 80 yards as time expired.
That prompted Pensacola fans to storm the field as Jefferson players sobbed on the ground.
"We should have made more plays," senior linebacker Fred Overstreet said. "They just made more plays than us. They prepared harder than us and worked harder than us this week.
"But nobody thought we would get this far."