ATLANTA — It had been so long since the Calhoun football team had experienced a loss of any kind, much less a defeat so one-sided, that the looks on the players' and coaches' faces were more of disbelief than disappointment.
The Yellow Jackets had won 29 consecutive games coming into Saturday's Georgia Class AA final, but they also knew the bitter sting of a championship loss, coming up short five times in the last eight title games. Three of those previous four championship losses were by seven points or less, but Saturday was the first time the Yellow Jackets faced a team other than Buford in the title game since 2005.
And Calhoun was very un-Calhoun-like in the 31-14 loss to Jefferson. The Yellow Jackets dropped passes, committed untimely penalties, turned the ball over and failed to finish two first-half drives in which they turned the ball over inside the Jefferson 20-yard line. They also were outgained 496-305 in total yards.
"It just wasn't our night," Yellow Jackets coach Hal Lamb said. "I know that sounds awfully simple, but I don't know how else to describe it when you consider all the mistakes we made."
After falling behind early, Calhoun rallied to tie the game late in the first quarter but couldn't match Jefferson's two second-quarter touchdowns. But even after struggling on its first two second-half possessions, Calhoun struck for a big gain that swung momentum and felt like the type play that typically begins a memorable comeback. One play after Carter Edwards intercepted a Jefferson pass at the Calhoun 25, Taylor Lamb hit Tydus Curtis in stride for a 75-yard TD to bring the Yellow Jackets within 21-14 midway through the third quarter.
The Yellow Jackets recovered a Jefferson fumble moments later and looked to be in good shape before a tipped pass resulted in an interception that was returned deep into Calhoun territory and led to a Dragons TD. That score seemed to break the Yellow Jackets' spirit.
"We just never seemed to be in the game mentally, and I don't know why," Curtis said. "We had worked out butts off to get here, but when we got down by two scores again in the third quarter, we had some guys who dropped their heads and started looking at the score and the clock instead of just fighting to get back in it. Maybe that's just us being young.
"I'm disappointed. We all are. I probably could've done more to help us. I wish I could have this game over, because I don't think we really took this team as serious as we had some others in the playoffs. Not until they got up a couple of scores, and by then it was probably too late."
While Calhoun must replace record-setting quarterback Taylor Lamb, who is committed to South Alabama, the nucleus returns. Those players include Curtis, a 1,000-yard receiver, as well as 1,200-yard rusher Alex Urbano and the entire offensive line.
The Yellow Jackets started six sophomores Saturday, and as they watched the final seconds tick off the Georgia Dome clock and the reality of the loss sank in, it didn't take long before many wearing black and gold began doing what this program does every year -- planning for a return and a shot at redemption.