Bainbridge running back and Herald Dynamite Dozen selection Terry Lewis’ Bearcats could just as easily be playing tonight with a region title on the line, but thanks to a pair of heartbreaking losses — 17-14 to region champ TCC in overtime and a 21-17 stunner against Harris County — leaves Bainbridge vying for either the No. 3 of 4 spot in the upcoming state playoffs when it hosts Lee County tonight in the regular-season finale. (Herald file photo)
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WHO: Herald No. 1 Lee County (7-2, 2-2 in Region 1-AAAAA) at No. 2 Bainbridge (6-3, 2-2).
WHAT: Showdown for Nos. 3 and 4 seeds out of Region 1-AAAAA in the upcoming state playoffs.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today.
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BAINBRIDGE — Are there two teams anywhere in Georgia more opposite in personality and philosophy than Lee County and Bainbridge?
This isn’t a tale of the tape. There’s not enough tape to measure the differences between Lee’s wide-open, spread offense and Bainbridge’s Veer offense that grinds and punishes.
Lee wants to spread the field and score points like a video game. Bainbridge wants to beat you with discipline and more discipline, running a Veer offense that works not only because of its strategy but because of its precision.
“They don’t just run the Veer,” began Lee County coach Dean Fabrizio, “they do a great job of execution.”
Any time polar opposites collide, it’s interesting, and that would be enough to make tonight’s Lee County-Bainbridge showdown intriguing, but there’s so much more on the line.
Both are 2-2 in the region race, and they’re playing to see who wins the No. 3 seed in Region 1-AAAAA. The loser will be the fourth seed and have to open the playoffs against the top team from Region 4-AAAAA, which will probably be Whitewater, with a trip to Fayetteville on the line.
“You don’t want to have to play the No. 1 team in the first round,’’ Lee County running back and Dynamite Dozen selection Kenneth Hurley said. “We want to win the No. 3 seed to give ourselves the best chance to make a run in the playoffs.’’
That’s the idea, and Bainbridge, which needs a private jet to travel in the playoffs because Georgia’s Class AAAAA high school playoff geography punishes teams in the southwest corner of the state, also wants that No. 3 seed. In fact, the Bearcats felt they should have won the region.
“We gave away two games,” said Bainbridge coach Ed Pilcher, whose team lost to state ranked Thomas County Central, 17-14, in overtime, and then the next week lost in the final minutes to Harris County, 21-17. “That loss to Central really took it out of us. We put so much into that second half, and we were going in for the win in overtime and fumbled the ball. It took us a couple of weeks to get over that, and we lost to Harris County the next week.’’
Lee had similar results, losing to TCC, 41-35, and then falling to Harris the next week, 35-31, when Harris scored in the final minute of the game. Had those four games gone the other way, tonight’s game would have been for the region title. That’s why both teams — which are the Top 2 ranked teams in The Herald’s Fab 5 Poll with Lee County No. 1 and Bainbridge No. 2 — feel they can do well in the playoffs, and that’s why the No. 3 seed carries so much weight.
Pilcher knows Lee County will show up tonight throwing the ball all over the field.
“They’re playing dog-gone good ball,” he said. “They’re so explosive on offense. They have so many weapons on offense. We will have our work cut out for us trying to slow them down.
“If we can control the ball and grind it out and keep the ball out of their hands, we have a chance.”
The Bearcats can take a lot of clock and a lot of turf with them because they have Dynamite Dozen running back Terry Lewis, who has gained 1,047 yards on 123 carries and scored 12 touchdowns, and they also have Damian Bouie, who took care of Bainbridge’s problems at quarterback. He started the year as a running back but moved to the QB spot and solidified the offense with talent and leadership. He has rushed for 701 yards on 120 carries and scored 11 touchdowns.
“They’ve got a lot of speed on both sides of the ball, and they’ve got a lot of athletes,’’ Fabrizio said. “We’ve got to be in position to make the plays on defense and then find a way to bring them to the ground.’’
Still, Lee County can score points and is coming off a school-record 70-point night against Northside, Columbus. The Trojans have scored 408 points in nine games this year for an average of 45.3 points per game, and the starters sat out the second half of a lot of the wins.
They are led by Hurley, who carried the ball only five times in last week’s 70-19 rout against Northside. He has rushed for 1,139 yards on 120 carries (9.49 yards per carry) and 17 touchdowns this year and has caught 26 passes for another 450 yards and three touchdowns, accounting for almost 1,600 yards this season — despite sitting out the second half in about half the games.
Quarterback Stephen Collier has completed 87 of 153 passes for 1,427 yards and 17 touchdowns, and he has also rushed for 450 yards on 79 carries and 10 touchdowns, accounting for almost 1,900 yards of offense and 27 TDs.
That’s why Pilcher wants to control the ball and keep it away from Collier and Hurley in an effort to slow the game down.
“We want a 21-14 game,” Pilcher said. “We don’t want to get into a shootout with them.’’
Lee wants to speed up everything with a no-huddle attack it hopes will dictate the pace of the game.
“Our team is all about tempo,’’ said Chance Greene, a senior offensive lineman for the Trojans. “Our defense has got to stop them (and not let them grind it out), and when we get the ball, we’ve got to score points.”
The game could also hold significance for Lee County’s program. The Trojans are 7-2 and could be just the fourth team in Lee County history to have an eight-win season. According to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association, Lee went 8-3 in 1997, went 9-3 in 1999 and had its best season in 2005 when the Trojans went 10-2. This year’s team could go down as one of the best in the school’s history with win No. 8.
“Only a few have done it,” Fabrizio said. “There’s a lot on the line in this game. We’re playing for the No. 3 seed, playing for momentum going into the playoffs and playing to get the eighth win. Getting that eighth win would really be good.”
There’s also some bragging rights. The Trojans have been No. 1 in the Fab 5 poll for weeks, and Bainbridge — which has also spent some time at No. 1 before dropping — has moved back up and is ranked No. 2.
“We’ve talked about that this week,” Fabrizio said. “We want to end the season No. 1 in The Albany Herald poll. That’s a big honor. We’re excited about it. Our kids want to be No. 1.”
Then Fabrizio closed with a joke during an otherwise intense week.
“We could get a trophy and put (Herald Sports Editor) Danny Aller on top of it,’’ Fabrizio said with a smile.