DAWSON -- After years and years of state title games, Terrell Academy and Thomas Jefferson had an instant classic in the first round of the GISA Class A playoffs Friday.
The two teams traded blows, changing leads five times, before a costly Jags turnover with 2:30 left in the game helped Terrell Academy hang on for a 30-25 win to advance to the quarterfinals next week.
"We're going to keep fighting," Eagles junior quarterback Zach Hurst said. "We're a scrappy bunch of kids."
TAE (6-4-1), the No. 2 seed from Region 2-A, will play the winner of today's Memorial Day-Windsor game. Terrell Academy coaches planned to make the trip to Savannah to scout the game.
The Eagles took a 30-25 lead Friday with 4:07 left in the game on Levi Griffin's 21-yard run before Thomas Jefferson drove near midfield and faced a fourth-and-two with under three minutes to play. Jags running back Austin Dressel, who ran for 129 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries, picked up the first down but was hit and coughed up the ball, which Josh Waldrip pounced on to give the Eagles possession and seal the win.
"I don't know who made the hit, but I'm glad they did," Terrell Academy head coach Bill Murdock said. "That was big."
Terrell took possession and Griffin picked up a first down to end the game. Griffin, bum shoulder, knee and all, ran for 142 yards on 23 carries and scored two touchdowns in a gutsy performance. Running back Todd Beaver also suffered what coaches believed was a dislocated finger but he continued to play.
"These kids are tough," Murdock said. "They're fighters."
For Thomas Jefferson (6-5-1), which has lost to the Eagles three straight years in the playoffs, the first-round exit was a bitter pill to swallow.
"This game here was better than any state championship game that Terrell and TJ have ever played," Jags head coach Chuck Wimberly said. "Us playing in the first round of the playoffs is something you don't want to see happen.
"It's just a doggone shame that somebody lost."
Terrell and Thomas Jefferson tied 13-13 in the regular-season opener and Friday's playoff showdown was almost as close. Terrell took its biggest lead of the game, 24-13, when Hurst hit Brian Ambrose on a 73-yard strike with 10:25 left in the third quarter. Hurst completed 6-of-11 passes for 139 yards and two scores, the first going to tight end Jonathan Farr on a 9-yard touchdown catch in traffic.
"(The win) means a lot," said Hurst, who took over for injured starting quarterback Chris Rogers midway through the season. "I've got so many weapons around me I can't help but (make plays)."
Thomas Jefferson answered with two straight Dressel touchdown runs in the third and fourth quarters to retake a 25-24 lead with 7:02 to play. Dressel, a junior who ran for more than 1,500 yards during the season, carried the load, while sophomore Michael Bridges (1,700 rushing yards in the regular season) was held to just 43 yards.
The Eagles' defense limited Thomas Jefferson to 158 rushing yards on 40 carries. Quarterback Chase Walden threw for 102 yards on 5-of-9 passing.
Terrell Academy's Blake Grimsley scored the first Eagles touchdown on a 51-yard end-around and finished with 84 yards on seven carries. Jason Davis also had a key fumble recovery in the first half that led to a score.
Without a consistent kicking game, the Eagles went for two on all but one of their five touchdowns and failed each time, also missing the lone point after attempt.
If GISA Region 1-A No. 1 seed Memorial Day wins today, Terrell will have to travel to Savannah next Friday for the quarterfinals. The Eagles would host next week if Windsor, a No. 4 seed, were to upset Memorial Day.