By Otis Kirk
Sardis North Panola defeated Charleston 14-0 on Friday night in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A state playoffs in Mississippi with Pig Trail Nation in attendance.
Future Razorback quarterback KJ Jefferson had touchdown passes of 74 and 76 yards in the victory. North Panola (12-1) will now take on Water Valley (12-2) in the semifinals on Friday. North Panola defeated Water Valley 59-26 on Oct. 26 this season. Jefferson played with an injured ankle.
“Man it cost me a couple of times, but I knew I had to pull through for my team,” Jefferson said following the game. “I had to go hard for each and everyone of them so I pulled through for it. I just had to persevere and get the W for my team.”
How much, if any, did that limit you tonight for what you wanted to do?
“It limited my running ability and spreading the defense out,” Jefferson said. “But it still came down to me making a better play with my arm, spreading the defense out, throwing good balls and getting my receivers open. It limited me some on my running ability and escapability, but we still got the W.”
Your receivers had good yards after the catch particularly on those two long touchdown passes.
“We worked on that all week long,” Jefferson said. “Catching the ball, YAC, yards after catch. We worked on that all week long. We practiced really hard. Stayed out there and threw a couple of balls to receivers just to get a feel for the weather and all the elements coming into the game. I feel we did a good job all the way round with the team.”
You are getting to the semifinals to face Water Valley what does that mean?
“We know how the semis felt last year and we don’t want experience that feeling no more,” Jefferson said. “So we’re gonna do in our will to get that state championship.”
In 2017, North Panola came into the semifinals undefeated at 13-0. However, Yazoo County topped them 59-26.
Tonight, what was the difference in the second half, it seemed like you guys opened it up more?
“We knew we had them beat in the first half,” Jefferson said. “We noticed they had their hands on their knees. We went into the locker room and Coach said do everything the right way. So we came out all hands on deck.”
With your right ankle injury just how much were you able to do at practice this week?
“I was very limited in practice,” Jefferson said. “I didn’t do a lot of team. I did a lot of [individual] and drills such as run polish. I just wasn’t doing too much running on it because I was doing therapy too. I knew I should be good to go with therapy and everything.
“I had a high ankle sprain. I’ve got a couple of ligaments messed up in it. It still didn’t stop me tonight. I just mainly play with a chip on my shoulder. I knew I had to make an impact and knew I had to make a difference. The backup quarterback did good. I stayed in his ear all night. I told him, ‘I’ve got you, I ‘m with you. Let’s go get the W.'”
The defense got the shutout and that obviously helped take the pressure off of you and the offense?
“That’s the main thing about our defensive coordinator he don’t like the offense score any points,” Jefferson said. “That’s the main thing. It was very intensive at all practices. We practiced the whole week and we knew we had the edge right then and there. Our defense played a light’s out game, good coaching and all around a good experience.”
What leadership do you feel you provide?
“The chemistry we have,” Jefferson said. “Really just coming together, Doing everything together, hanging out and just the bond is really strong. Everyone looks for me to come over to their house so I had to make sure I carry myself in the right way and just come out with a positive attitude each and every day.”
Jefferson’s future team, Arkansas, will be in Starkville to face Mississippi State at 11 a.m. Jefferson was asked if he will be watching?
“I’m watching the whole game,” Jefferson said. “I’ve got to be rooting Arkansas. I’m watching the whole game hoping they can get that W.”
Arkansas enters the Mississippi State game at 2-8. What has it been like watching them this season?
“At times it has been a struggle,” Jefferson said. “But I see the growth and what Chad Morris is trying to do with the offense. But I see the growth in the players. When my players come in next year hopefully we can just pick up where they stopped from.”
Do you like being part of this class that is ranked No. 10 nationally with Rivals.com and they keep adding pieces to it?
“It feels good knowing that we all understand what Chad Morris trying to install at Arkansas,” Jefferson said. “Like the same offense he did at Clemson. So we just coming in building a bond with each other to come in and be the best class to ever come into Arkansas.”
What about the bond you are building with the receivers such as Hudson Henry and what you guys are building right now?
“We’re real tight,” Jefferson said. “We FaceTime each other and do everything over the phone. We meet each other at Arkansas at the games. All of us come to the games, trip out and have fun. Just enjoy ourselves and basically building a tighter bond with each other every day. I feel like we’ve got a good receiver class and we’re gonna do good at Arkansas.”
Is the plan to come in right away and try to compete for a starting job?
“That’s the plan,” Jefferson said. “One of the reasons I picked Arkansas, one it felt like home, and they have a good academic thing. The main thing I just felt like I could ball there. Chad Morris needed a guy to run his offense. That’s another reason I picked them the coaches there. We’re just trying to come out on top at Arkansas.”
You will sign during the early signing period Dec. 19-21?
“Yeah I will sign in December,” Jefferson said. “But we had a couple of things go wrong at school so I’m just gonna enroll after May.”
Arkansas is recruiting Clemson graduate transfer Kelly Bryant. What are your thoughts on that?
“Ain’t nothing like competing,” Jefferson said. “If he does win the starting job it’s a good learning experience for me watching him and developing under him. But if not we’re still gonna compete each and every day. I’m gonna compete like it’s my last time. We’re still gonna go head on, good bond, but on the field we’re gonna be at each other’s throat because I’m coming for the starting job just like he is. It’s gonna be a good experience.”
For those who haven’t seen you play what are your biggest attributes?
“Mainly me just spreading the ball and making plays all the time when the offense needs them,” Jefferson said. “Me making plays, broken down plays and me just getting the ball out of my hands to get points.”
Coming into the game against Charleston, Jefferson had completed 143 of 228 passes for 2,635 yards and 31 touchdowns with six interceptions. He had rushed 102 times for 880 yards and seven touchdowns.