Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

LEESBURG -- Thomas County Central defensive end Ray Drew stands at 6-foot-5, weighs 255 pounds and runs a 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds.

He's the No. 2-rated defensive end in the nation and ranked as the 18th player overall by Rivals. Every major college football program wants him. You name 'em: Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State, Miami, Florida State, Florida, LSU, Georgia, etc ... etc ...

And all Drew wants -- at least for the moment -- is Justin Walker.

Drew might not have decided where he wants to play football next year, but that can wait. Right now he wants to make the Lee County quarterback's life miserable because so much is at stake tonight when Walker and the Trojans face Drew and TCC.

The two teams are tied for second in the Region 1-AAAA race at 3-1, and each has lost to Northside, Warner Robins, the top-ranked team in Georgia.

Both teams know what second place means -- it means a home game in the first round of the playoffs.

"The winner of this game puts themselves in position of hosting the first round of the playoffs,'' Lee County coach Dean Fabrizio said this week. "In this region, that's a tremendous accomplishment.''

It would mean even more to Lee County. After all, the program had produced only five winning seasons before this year, and only three of those were playoff teams. Lee had won only three games the last two seasons until this year's 6-1 start, and now the Trojans could be at home in the playoffs.

Well, if they beat TCC.

They've only done that once in their history, and take a 1-17 record against the Yellow Jackets all-time into this game. Still, this is not your father's Lee County team. The Trojans have one of the most prolific offenses in Georgia, and no one in the state throws the ball like Walker.

He's the top quarterback in Georgia, just statistically ahead of North Gwinnett's Eman Westmoreland, who has completed 171 of 276 passes for 2,137 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Walker has thrown fewer passes for more yards and more TDs, completing 149 of 240 for 2,158 yards and 30 scores. He's averaging 308 yards a game, and that includes a 244-yard game against Northside, which blitzed and stormed the backfield all night. Walker never had time to think -- let alone throw -- against the Eagles.

Drew and TCC will try to do the same thing tonight in Leesburg, where the game will probably be won or lost on Lee County's offensive line.

But Drew isn't the only problem for the Trojans. Three other TCC players have at least 50 tackles, and linebacker Jon Ester has a team-leading eight tackles for losses. TCC's defense has led the Yellow Jackets all season. They lost to Northside, 34-14, last week, but before that game, TCC's defense had allowed a total of 12 points in three region games.

"They are solid all over,'' Fabrizio said. "And Drew is a monster on defense.''

Walker had another problem in the loss to Northside. There were several passes that were dropped, especially early when Lee needed to make a statement.

"That was a big game and we were a little nervous at the beginning of the game,'' Lee County running back Denzel Eckles said. "We've been through a big game now. We won't have that problem against Thomas County.''

TCC had been ranked in the Top 5 in the state most of the season, but fell to No. 10 after losing to Northside. Lee County was ranked No. 10 but fell out of the Top 10 when the Trojans lost to Northside two weeks ago.

That's Lee County's biggest problem: The Trojans have to beat two of the best teams in Georgia to finish at least second in the region, and they've already lost to Northside.

"I don't think Thomas County is the same team Northside is,'' said Lee's Sanford Seay, who has more receptions (41) than any receiver in Georgia. "They're a real good team, but I think we will play a better game against them than we did against Northside. We've experienced playing a good team. We know how much harder we have to play.''

Seay believes the loss to Northside will give Lee an advantage tonight.

"I look at the loss to Northside as a wake-up call,'' said Seay, who caught the only touchdown pass in the 42-7 loss.

Lee County's defense also looked vulnerable against Northside, and Fabrizio wasn't shy this week about saying how important it was for his defense to make a stand against TCC, which runs the option.

TCC quarterback Eric Dodson has thrown for 659 yards and rushed for 474 yards, and running back James Davis has rushed for 348 yards.

"They've got some great players and an experienced quarterback and an experienced running back,'' Fabrizio said. "It's no secret we are going to have to do a good job of stopping the option. They've got great players and we not only have to be in position, but we have to tackle them.''

Most teams won't see two teams of this caliber all season, and some won't see two teams in the playoffs any better than Northside and TCC, but Lee is having to face them both in a three-week period.

"Our kids know this is big,'' Fabrizio said. "Like Northside, they come into this game with a lot of talent, a lot of mystique and a lot of prestige.

The thing about it is that when you play in the toughest region in the state, if you get to the playoffs you're not going to see a better level of competition.''