LUTZ — The Steinbrenner student section began chanting the kicker's name as he lined up to attempt a 35-yard field goal, his team having trailed Jefferson all night. A successful kick would have made it a one-score game with plenty of time remaining for the Warriors to make something happen against a Jefferson defense that, until then, had refused to give.
Yet again, the Dragons didn't budge an inch. Jefferson linebacker Jahaud Russ, though, took it 70 yards.
Jefferson blocked the field-goal attempt, and Russ, who had a pick six in last week's win against Plant City, scooped up the ball and ran the other way, not looking back until he had crossed the goal line for his second touchdown of the year. From there, Jefferson ate up the clock, cruising to a 24-0 victory.
"Once I knew I had my feet under me, I knew nobody was catching me," Russ said. "It's too late, now. I've got to get (a touchdown) every game or I'm going to feel bad."
Jefferson (24-0) started hot, getting four first downs on its opening drive, which was capped by a 32-yard field goal from Aaron Quiambao. The Dragons scored once more in the half, on a 3-yard run from Niko Duffey in the second quarter, but miscues kept Jefferson from running away with the game early.
The Dragons had more than 15 penalties in the game, and they turned the ball over three times. Longtime Jefferson coach Jeremy Earle was absent from the sideline — school officials would not comment on where he was, but said he would be back next week — so running backs coach Carl Canion took the reins.
"Knowing the guys I got around me, all I had to do was just make the ship go in cruise control," Canion said. "I think that's why Coach Earle picked me. All of us could have done it, but he thinks I'm kind of a cool, mild-mannered guy."
And by staying calm and collected, Jefferson finally found its stride.
Duffey, who led all rushers with 146 yards on the ground, had 102 after the break, and quarterback Matt Gaffney finish 9-of-16 for 180 yards. Steinbrenner, not without its own bright spots, shined defensively, at times. Linebacker Cameron Woodward picked off Gaffney twice, and, late in the third quarter, safety Jose Bautista made a huge third-down stop before blocking Jefferson's ensuing punt, helping set up the Warriors' field-goal attempt.
Russ' scoop-and-run, though, all but ended any hope Steinbrenner (1-1) had for a rally, and in the fourth quarter, Gaffney connected with Dontavius Smith on a 60-yard screen pass for a touchdown to make the gap officially insurmountable.
"We definitely did it for Coach Earle," Duffey said. "It was sad he couldn't be out here with us. So we just balled out for him."