Lee County coach Dean Fabrizio and the Trojans are back in the playoffs for the second time in three years and will face a 9-1 Whitewater team Friday in Fayetteville.
WHO: Lee County (7-3) at Whitewater (9-1).
WHAT: GHSA Class AAAAA state playoff opener for both teams.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
LIVE SCORING UPDATES: twitter.com/AlbHeraldsports.
LEESBURG — Lee County no longer puts out the fire and calls it a season in late October.
The Trojans are back in the state playoffs for the second time in three seasons under fourth-year head coach Dean Fabrizio, and they want to prove they belong in the 32-team field.
Nothing would do that more than a win Friday in the first round of the GHSA Class AAAAA state tournament at Region 4-AAAA No. 1 seed Whitewater. Lee County enters the playoffs as the No. 4 seed from 1-AAAAA with upset on its mind.
“We feel like if we play like we’re capable of playing, we’re going to win this game,” Fabrizio said Tuesday. “We’re not satisfied just getting to the playoffs. We expect to win games in the playoffs.”
That’s a bit of a culture change at Lee County, which had made the playoffs only twice in the last 12 years and has won only two playoff games since the state’s postseason tournament format changed in the early ’90s. Many still don’t expect the Trojans to do much in the playoffs after their seven wins came against teams with a combined 21-48-1 record, although Lee County (7-3) lost to the top three teams in Region 1-AAAA (Harris County, Thomas County Central and Bainbridge) by a combined total of 17 points.
“Some of my friends just don’t have faith in us,” Lee County senior defensive end Willie Butler said.
Added Trojans senior wideout Casey Hightower: “It’s just aggravating. Going in there as the fourth seed and hearing about Whitewater and their 9-1 record. It doesn’t bother me at all really. It just motivates me.”
The Trojans’ last trip to the playoffs two seasons ago was similar, going in as a fourth seed and facing top-seeded Griffin in the first round. Lee trailed by three at halftime before falling, 41-13. This year’s opponent, Whitewater, pulled one of the biggest upsets in playoff history that year, beating state powerhouse Northside, Warner Robins in the first round.
The Wildcats (9-1) are led by a massive offensive line and tailbacks Kendall Conley and Christian Wafford. Conley has run for 1,475 yards and 26 touchdowns this season, according to Georgia High School Football Historians Association, including a game in which he ran for 250 yards and four touchdowns on eight carries in the first half.
“The thing that really makes them go is the tailbacks,” Fabrizio said. “We’re going to have to do a great job of tackling to keep those guys under control. If you make a mistake, they can take it to the house.”
The Trojans will be without senior wide receiver Andrew Stroud for the third consecutive week after he tore his ACL in a win against Northside, Columbus. Stroud hopes to make it back by baseball season, but the Trojans still have plenty of weapons on an offense that leads Class AAAAA in scoring with 45 points per game.
“If we go out and perform like we’re supposed to and play both halves, I believe we can beat anybody in the state,” Hightower said.
Lee County will counter Whitewater’s power run with its high-tempo spread offense led by junior quarterback Stephen Collier, who threw for 361 yards and five touchdowns in last week’s 49-42 loss to Bainbridge. The Trojans allowed just seven points on defense — while scoring 35 on offense — in the second-half comeback.
The first-round test in Fayetteville will, however, be the longest road trip of the season for Lee, although Fabrizio said it won’t be any different than some of the team’s region trips this season.
“One thing about playing in this region, you’re going to have long trips,” he said. “We got stuck behind a peanut truck going to Bainbridge and it seemed like it took three hours. Coming back from Harris County our bus dang near broke down — and that took nearly three hours.”
The players wouldn’t mind staying at the Holiday Inn prior to game day, but they know the only way to take the next step this season is to ride the interstate and bring a win back home.
“I would definitely like to go the night before and stay the night, but we got to do it (this way),” Hightower said.