Toni Sutton, the widow of fallen U.S. Marine Lance Cp. Steven Sutton, left, speaks to the crowd after being handed a glass-encased No. 60 jersey by Lee County principal Kevin Dowling containing a picture of Sutton during his playing days for the Trojans before Friday’s game against Albany High. Standing in back is Sutton’s father, Gene. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
LEESBURG — Before Lee County’s second football game of the year Friday — and well before the season ever started — coach Dean Fabrizio made one thing clear about the purpose of 2012.
“We’ve dedicated the entire season to him,” he said of former Trojans football star Steven Sutton, who died earlier this year while serving his country as a member of the U.S. Marines. “It gives us one more thing to play for, and it’s our way to honor one of our own and all the sacrifices he made for us.”
In addition to the season-long dedication, Fabrizio reminds his guys what they’re playing for in every pre- and post-game speech he gives, while Sutton’s wife, Toni, and his father, Gene, also were presented with Sutton’s glass-encased No. 60 jersey before Friday’s game against Albany High — a 52-13 Trojans win. Fabrizio, Lee County A.D. Rob Williams and principal Kevin Dowling came up with the idea for the memorial, and Fabrizio called it an “emotional moment” for everyone on hand.
“I think it was emotional for everyone, especially the family,” he said. “We gave them the jersey, showed them the sticker we’re going to wear on our helmets all year in his honor, and we’ll put another jersey in a glass case in our locker room.”
The Trojans (2-0) also gave the Sutton family a DVD containing a highlight reel of Steven’s playing days — and it’s a DVD Fabrizio says makes what happened to Sutton hit home even more.
“I didn’t know Steve — he had graduated and moved on before I got here — but that doesn’t matter. He’s an inspiration to all of us. And when you watch that DVD of him playing here just a few years ago, it really inspires you to make the most of every day,” the coach said. “I remind my guys that it wasn’t long ago he was walking these halls and playing on the same field they were, and now he’s gone. (His memory) just inspires us to take advantage of every opportunity we have — in life, this season, everything we do.”
QB QUANDARY AT LEE?: Don’t call it a quarterback controversy. Fabrizio said it’s anything but with last year’s starter and senior QB Matt Mears now rotating series with junior Stephen Collier, who played in spurts as a sophomore last season. Collier started Friday, but both he and Mears played well in the win against Albany High.
“They’re both such high-character kids that help push each other,” Fabrizio said of Mears and Collier.
Collier threw for three TDs, completing 7 of 10 passing attempts, providing the ability to stretch the field, while Mears’ accuracy was on display with 6 of 7 passing attempts completed and one TD. Collier was under center for three of the first four series, each ending in touchdown throws.
Fabrizio didn’t feel like the rhythm of either quarterback was interrupted by the rotation.
Lee moved the ball with ease on offense, but the defense also looked impressive, holding the Indians to 113 rushing yards, 56 of which came from Albany sophomore Trawick Kennedy on the final possession. The Trojans’ special teams were equally good, with freshman speedster Devontae Seay returning the opening kickoff 80 yards for a score. Seay, one of three freshman starters for Lee County, had 97 return yards on the night and caught a pass for nine yards.
“That No. 18 flying down the field was déjà-vu from a couple of years ago when his brother was taking kickoffs back for us,” Fabrizio said of Seay, whose brother Sanford was a star in Leesburg two years ago before signing with the University of Georgia.
Trojans senior kicker Hunter Johnson also hit a 43-yard field goal and made 5-of-6 extra points.
INDIANS GETTIN’ DEFENSIVE: Albany High gave up 185 passing yards in the first half against Lee County in Friday’s loss. Head coach Felton Williams hopes it’s not a sign of things to come.
Williams was annoyed with the Indians’ secondary’s inability to keep Lee County’s receivers from getting over the top and it won’t be the last time Albany High will have to defend the pass. Americus-Sumter and Monroe High will also bring aerial passing attacks in Region 1-AAAA play.
The Indians now need to get up off the deck after a 0-2 start to the season. Senior quarterback Emmanul Byrd completed 11 of 19 passes for two scores and had seven dropped passes by receivers, two of which would have gone for long catch and runs.
CALHOUN’S WILLIAMS WANTS TO KNOW, ‘WHERE’S MY CHALLENGE FLAG?’: There are no instant replays or reviews in high school football, but Calhoun County coach John Williams wishes there had been one Friday night in his team’s game against Lanier County.
Calhoun, down 18-14, had a chance to win it when Ryan Shorter intercepted a pass and returned the ball to the Lanier 1-yard line with about two minutes left in the game. Williams thought his kids had won the game when Marquil Middleton went head-first over the goal line on a fourth-down sweep.
He was ruled just short of the end zone.
“I didn’t have a challenge flag to throw,’’ said Williams, who argued with the official after the play. “To me, it looked like he was in the end zone. The ref said he wasn’t. We spent a minute talking about it. I didn’t have a review or a challenge flag to throw. There’s no review, so there’s nothing I can do.”
Instead, Calhoun took a tough loss and is 1-1.
“It really was a tough loss on that situation,’’ Williams said.
Middleton scored on a 55-yard interception and Sherrod Williams ran for two points to give the Cougars an 8-0 lead. Williams returned a fumble 20 yards for a TD to close the score to 18-14 with about six minutes left in the game.
“Early in the game we didn’t generate much offense,” the coach said. “They put nine guys in the box and they capitalized off that. We have a real young offensive line (two freshmen, a sophomore and one senior).”
Middleton led the Cougars with 65 yards rushing and Williams gained 45 yards. Calhoun County next plays Turner County on Friday in a non-region game.
HAPPY BACKFIELD: Cornelius Bennett gained more than 200 yards, and Don Bolden gained more than 100 in Randolph-Clay’s 34-33 win against Spencer on Friday night.
Both are juniors and have no envy or jealousy when the other guy is gaining yards or scoring touchdowns.
“We’re best friends,” Bennett said Saturday. “When I run the ball, he blocks for me. When he runs the ball, I block for him. If he scores, we high-five each other. If I score a touchdown, we high-five each other.’’
Bolden gained 1,620 yards last year and Bennett gained 1,005 last season, but Bennett, who carried the ball 30 times Friday night, is getting a few more carries this year.
“We play Don more on defense, and that’s why Cornelius is carrying the ball a little more this year,” Randolph-Clay coach Daniel McFather said. “They both play defense, but we use Don (at linebacker) more on defense and rest Cornelius a little more on defense. They both play tailback and fullback, and we swap them out so the other team can’t key on one of them.”
Randolph-Clay (1-1) is off next week and will next face Stewart in its Region 1-A opener Sept. 21.
SHERWOOD LOOKS TO FINISH GAMES STRONG — OR AT LEAST STRONGER: After getting shut out in their opener, Sherwood has responded with 66 points and two wins. The latest came Friday when Sherwood beat Randolph Southern, 35-28. But the victory didn’t come without some tense moments late in the game.
With a 35-14 lead and 10 minutes to play, SCA coach Otis Covington said his guys “lost focus” and went on cruise control.
“Three straight possessions, three straight fumbles,” he lament. “They weren’t even trying to tackle us, they were just trying to strip the ball, and my guys need to be more aware of the situation and finish games strong. I told them afterward that this is something we have to work on. We’re young, and we’re still learning. It’ll get it fixed.”
Eagles RB T.J. Clay scored twice in the win for Sherwood — once on a 28-yard rushing TD, while the other came on a 65-yard kickoff return. SCA QB Dalton Todd scored the other three touchdowns, all coming on one-yard dives. Clay also kicked all three extra points.Sherwood (2-1) now turns its focus to unbeaten local rival Southland (3-0), which visits Albany on Friday.
“They’re good, and they’re big,” Covinington said of facing Southland. “It’s going to be a challenge.”
BACONTON CHARTER ON THE BOARD: The Blazers (1-2) won their first game late Friday, beating Munroe (Fla.) Day School, 26-6, for its first win this year. No final stats were available.
BAINBRIDGE EDGES CAIRO AGAIN ON PROVENCE'S LEG: Daniel Provence kicked a 30-yard field goal with four seconds left late Friday to lift Bainbridge past Cairo, 17-14, in one of the biggest rivalries in Southwest Georgia.
Bainbridge, the No. 2 team in The Herald’s Fab 5 Poll, started the fourth quarter trailing, 14-7, but came back with a 6-yard TD run from Damian Bouie and a Provence PAT to knot the score at 14-14. Then the Bearcats drove 43 yards in five plays to reach the Cairo 13-yard line.
That’s where Provence — who, believe it or not, beat Cairo, 17-14, with a field goal last year — entered and put the game away with another clutch kick.
Neither team moved the ball much all night. Herald Dynamite Dozen tailback Terry Lewis gained just 25 yards on nine carries, and Bouie gained 28 yards on 13 carries. Lewis scored on a 1-yard run with 8:47 left in the first quarter to give Bainbridge a 7-0 lead.
Cairo’s leading rusher was Brian Sole, who rushed for 44 yards on 10 carries. Bainbridge junior quarterback Preston Norris led the Bearcats the same numbers: 44 yards on 10 carries.
Bainbridge (1-1) had to come back from an opening night loss to East Gadsden, the fifth ranked team in Florida’s Class AAAAA state poll, and had to play Cairo, which is ranked No. 2 in the Class AAAA state poll.
Now Bainbridge travels to Early County (2-0) next week to play The Herald’s fourth-ranked team.
Herald sports editor Danny Aller and staff writers Mike Phillips and Matt Stewart contributed to this report