0

It's not David vs. Goliath

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

LEESBURG -- The numbers start stacking up, one after another, until before you know it you're looking up at a mountain of winning streaks and titles, a towering body of work, the stuff of dynasties.

That's what it's like when you get ready to play Northside, Warner Robins, where the Eagles are more than a team or a program -- they're a high school football institution.

That's what Lee County faces tonight in what is arguably the biggest game in Leesburg in years. And the Trojans can't wait.

"If we beat them, it will be an upset,'' Lee County quarterback Justin Walker said. "But it won't be David and Goliath. They're 5-0 and we're 5-0.''

That's how far Lee County has come this season, far enough to make this one of the most talked about games in the state.

"We haven't played a team like this,'' said Lee County coach Dean Fabrizio, whose 10th ranked Trojans host top-ranked Northside tonight in Leesburg. "These guys are coming in with more mystique and prestige than any other team.''

There's more.

Northside isn't just the No. 1 team in the state's Class AAAA poll. The Eagles haven't lost to a AAAA program since the state title game in 2005.

Northside is also 35-0 against Class AAAA teams since, including back-to-back 15-0 seasons '06 and '07.

The Eagles spent the last two seasons in Class AAAAA and went 14-1 a year ago, losing to nationally-ranked Camden County in the final.

They're back in Class AAAA this year, and feel right at home, winning five in a row without a close game this season. Only Bainbridge has managed to score more than seven points against them, and that was in a 35-14 loss.

"They're a power football team,'' Fabrizio said. "They've got great balance, running and passing. They're big. They're fast. They're physical, and they're well-coached.''

That's the backdrop for tonight's game in Leesburg, where a sellout crowd of 8,000 is expected to show up.

Why? Because Lee County, a program that has seen only five winning seasons in its history, believes it can topple that mountain.

"Those are rankings and numbers,'' Lee County receiver James Terrell said. "We have to believe that we are going to win. It's a big game, and everybody says we are going to lose. But (this) Lee County is a different team.''

Different may not be the right word. Night and day doesn't even cover it. How can you explain this kind of turnaround? The Trojans won just four games over the last three years, and now they are 5-0 with the most potent passing attack in Georgia.

Walker has thrown for -- wait for it, wait for it -- 1,486 yards and tossed 24 TD passes in five games. He's coming off a five-TD, 526-yard game against Houston County, and there are some Trojan believers who think Fabrizio's wide-open spread offense can work against anyone.

Walker knows it's a big game, but he doesn't believe the mountain can't be climbed.

"Everybody on this football field believes we can win this game,'' he said at practice on Wednesday. "We all have to raise our game. We know that. We're going to have to play that kind of game, and do the things we know we can do.''

It's no secret what the Trojans do. They have shocked and stunned teams all season with a fast-paced, no-huddle offense that Walker runs like he has been doing it all his life. He loves to spread the ball around. Just look at these reception numbers: 24 catches for 278 yards by Denzel Eckles, 25 for 331 by Terrell and 28 for 461 yards by Sanford Seay. Terrell and Seay have each scored eight TDs. Eckles also has rushed for 242 yards on 38 carries.

The Trojans are averaging 370 yards in the air a game, despite playing with a running clock in the second half in their first three games.

Those numbers probably won't impress Northside.

"They're probably thinking this is just another game that they're going to win and that Lee County isn't anybody,'' Terrell said. "I know (we have critics) but everybody at school believes we can beat them. We've got the school behind us. This is the game we've been waiting for, because of the crowd and because they are ranked.''

Walker threw for more yards last week than Northside quarterback Briar Van Brunt has thrown for all season. Van Brunt has completed 30 of 52 passes for 345 yards and he has also rushed for 238 yards on 58 carries. The Eagles' bread-and-butter back is Shaquille O'Neill (honest, that's his name), who has gained 248 yards on 44 carries and scored six TDs. Then there's the dangerous Stephon Cross, who has gained 229 yards on just 19 carries. Van Brunt and O'Neill were Northside's leaders on offense a year ago when they went 14-1 in Class AAAAA.

It's not just Northside's balance that worries Fabrizio. Northside will send the biggest line and most athletic secondary that Walker has seen this season.

"Their line is big and strong and their linebackers are fast and physical, especially (Deilouse Jackson),'' Fabrizio said. "And their secondary is very athletic. It's no mistake that they're No. 1. They're as good as advertised.''

That's part of the intrigue of this game -- a game that could define Lee County's season, a season that has found a bandwagon loaded with supporters -- and it's share of critics.

"If we win, it will change all those haters out there who have been talking,'' Lee County linebacker Venorris Hayes said. "A lot of people are saying we are going to lose by 21 points. All I can say to them is (this): 'Buy a ticket and see what happens.' "

Tickets are going to go fast.

"I've heard they are going to bring 2,000 from Warner Robins,'' Fabrizio said. "And we're going to have a big crowd from here and the surrounding area. There's going to be a ton of people here. It's going to be an electric atmosphere. It's going to be a great atmosphere, and that will be a great experience for these kids to play in that kind of atmosphere.''

Everyone is Lee County has been talking about this game, and since the Trojans landed in the state poll this week at No. 10, the showdown will generate interest from around the state because Top 10 teams rarely meet in football until the playoffs.

"It's probably the biggest game at Lee County ever,'' Walker said. "I know it's the biggest since I've been here. It means a lot. When we started the season, we knew we could make it a great season. I guess playing in a game like this proves it.''

Winning would prove even more.

"It would feel great,'' Walker said. "It would feel like all the work we have put in so far has paid off. To win this game would mean a lot to the football team and a lot to the community. It would mean a ton.''