TAMPA — Ceremonies don't bring back loved ones. Tributes don't resuscitate heartbeats. Moments of silence don't erase emptiness. But there was something special present when Jefferson's football team wore its all-black uniforms one more time.
With a No. 8 patch on the left shoulder to remember fallen teammate C.J. Mills, Friday night's must-win district game against Spoto was the first time the Dragons wore the uniforms this season. Jefferson's players came out of their field house to the sight of Mills' smiling face on a sign where a permanent memorial will stand.
Dragons quarterback Quentin Williams wrote and C and a J on the back of his game socks to honor Mills, a talented Jefferson linebacker who was gunned down two years ago. At the half, with Jefferson trailing by a touchdown, Mills was honored with a moment of silence. And in the second half, Williams led his team to a 24-21 homecoming victory over the Spartans to put the Dragons in the driver's seat for a district title.
"When we put on these all-blacks, it's like we're playing for C.J.," Williams said, clutching his jersey. "It's like when we put these on, he's right beside you on the field with you. When we put these on, we can't let him down. We're not going to let No. 8 down."
Williams tallied 186 of his 257 yards and all three of his touchdown passes in the second half against one of the bay area's top defenses. He completed 16 of 20 passes, including two touchdowns to Eric Royster. Williams also converted one of the Dragons' three two-point conversions.
"We just can't quit," Williams said. "Adversity, that's always what (offensive coordinator Jeremy Earle) tell us, it's about how we handle adversity, and that's what we did tonight."
Starting receiver Chris Moore passed for a pair of two-point conversions.
On two of the touchdown passes, Williams audibled at the line, seeing that Spoto stacked eight in the box — leaving the receivers in man-to-man coverage.
"They're a great defense with all their blitzing, but when you live by it, you die by it," Jefferson coach Mike Fenton said. "They we're loading that box up."
With wins over Class 3A-8 foes Dixie Hollins and Blake the next two weeks, Jefferson (5-1, 3-0) can seal its first district title since 2004, when the Dragons went to the Class 3A state championship game.
And after Friday night's win, Fenton — his players circling him — told his team to prepare for a long playoff run.
"We've got to keep rolling," he told his team, "because I've got plans for us hanging around a while in the playoffs."