LEESBURG -- That thud you heard coming out of Leesburg Friday night was the sound of Lee County's football team hitting rock bottom.
It wasn't deafening, but it was numbing.
The Trojans, who were ripped, 69-28, by Thomas County Central, just hope they get some feeling back by next week when they meet Bainbridge in a game that could send them into the playoffs.
"We've got to find a lot more desire,'' Lee County coach Dean Fabrizio said. "We've got to find a lot more want-to. And we've got to find it (by) next week.''
In a game that held so much significance, Lee County simply was beaten in every phase and had no answer for TCC's option offense, which could have run to Atlanta untouched.
Beating TCC would have not only punched a postseason ticket for Lee County, but guaranteed a home field advantage in the first round. TCC won that and more. The Yellow Jackets, ranked 10th in the Class AAAA state poll, might be the second-best team in Georgia behind Northside, Warner Robins, which has beaten both TCC and Lee County and sits atop the state poll.
There's no doubt about who's No. 2 in Region 1-AAAA. TCC (6-2 and 4-1 in the region) had it wrapped up by halftime with a 55-14 lead, and could have started loading the bus during a running clock in the second half.
"We knew Lee County is capable of putting up a lot of points, so we wanted to start fast, and we did start fast,'' TCC coach Bill Shaver said. "Our defense got those two scores early, and that got us going.''
The Yellow Jackets never slowed down.
Malcolm Franklin grabbed a fumble and returned it 40 yards, and Toby Eaton picked off a pass and returned it 5 yards for a TD to give TCC a 20-0 lead. Eaton's TD seemed to inspire the Yellow Jackets, who weren't sure if he would play after Eaton's grandfather died this week
"It was great to see Toby Eaton score that touchdown,'' Shaver said. "He had such a tough week. His grandfather passed away this week, and he was emotionally down. We didn't know if he would play or not, so it was really great to see him make the interception and score.''
TCC quarterback Eric Dodson was unstoppable. He ran for three TDs in the first half, scoring on 7,- 10-, and 72-yard quarterback keepers that seemed to befuddle Lee County's defense. Dodson also tossed a 64-yard TD pass to tight end Nick Johnson, who was wide open on a third-and-6 play. Dodson left the game with about five minutes left in the half because of dehydration, but nothing changed when Adam Choice took over at QB.
Choice kept the ball on his first series and ran 76 yards for a TD to make it 48-14 with 4:37 left in the half. Curtis Brooks went 37 yards to make it 55-14. Choice scored on a 65-yard run to open the second half.
The two TCC quarterbacks -- Dodson (nine carries for 142 yards), and Choice (eight carries for 149 yards) combined for 291 rushing yards on just 17 carries.
Lee County (6-2, and 3-2 in the region) pulled its starters after halftime.
"They played good and we didn't play good,'' said Lee County quarterback Justin Walker, who managed to throw two TD passes and complete 18 of 29 passes for 150 yards in the first half before sitting down for the rest of the night.
Walker was under a lot of pressure from a TCC line that includes Ray Drew, the top-rated high school recruit in Georgia and Rivals' 18th best player in the nation. Drew (6-foot-5, 255 pounds) knocked down three passes, forced an intentional grounding and created havoc for Walker, who entered the game leading all Georgia QBs in passing.
It was a long night for Walker, who found Sanford Seay for a 23-yard TD and a 29-yard TD. He just wanted to forget this one.
What's worse, losing like this, or losing a heartbreaker by one point?
"Both,'' Walker said.
It was that ugly.
"We weren't ready and that's on me,'' Fabrizio said. "We weren't prepared and that's my job. I'm supposed to get them ready, and we weren't ready. Give Thomas County credit. They are a great program, and they were ready to play. That's what great programs do.''
In the end, Lee County just couldn't stop the option.
"We stopped them on the first drive, but we didn't do a good job after that,'' Fabrizio said. "We had some turnovers early and got down, and then we got disheartened on defense and never recovered.''
That's where the Trojans are now. They have had a brilliant season -- one of the best in the school's history -- and have been one of the most prolific offenses in Georgia. But they have to win one of their final two games to have a chance at the playoffs.
"As bad as we played (Friday night), if we win next week we're in the playoffs,'' Fabrizio said. "We've just got to regroup and be ready for next week.''