Lee County defensive linemen Demetrious Kennedy (No. 95) and Ronald Wilson Jr., (No. 92) sack Effingham County quarterback Phillip Brown during Friday’s playoff game. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
LEESBURG — Leesburg had waited eight long years since it last hosted a state playoff game at Trojan Field.
The town that is buzzing with postseason fever will have less than eight days to wait for the next one.
The host Trojans overcame three turnovers Friday night in the opening round of the Class AAAAA playoffs and held off Effingham County for a 28-6 victory.
Lee County senior P.J. Taylor ran for one TD and caught another and Dynamite Dozen QB Stephen Collier ran for two TDs to lead the Region 1-AAAAA champion Trojans (10-1) to their fourth straight win, setting up a second-round game in Leesburg next Friday against Region 4-AAAAA No. 2 seed Mundy’s Mill.
"It gives us a lot of confidence coming in knowing that we are playing for the community," Taylor said.
They will get to play in front of them at least one more time as they continue their march through the postseason.
"We made the playoffs last year, and there wasn't nearly as much excitement as there has been this year," Collier said. "It's a phenomenal feeling knowing that the whole city and whole county has our backs."
Lee County got on the scoreboard first 3:30 into the game when Taylor burst down the sideline for a 34-yard rushing touchdown, putting Lee County on top 7-0.
"I think this was my breakout game, but I give it all to my O-line and my receivers," Taylor said. "I didn't know how to act (after my first touchdown). It was amazing. I was just hoping I wasn't going to get caught."
No one caught him.
In fact, Effingham spent the rest of the night chasing the Trojans, who eventually pulled away with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
"The key thing about the playoffs is winning and advancing," Lee County coach Dean Fabrizio said. "Regardless of the score and regardless of how you play, you just need to win and advance. Defensively (Friday) our kids played another excellent game. We don't feel like we played our best game overall as a team, but sometimes that happens."
Collier had an underwhelming night, accounting for all of Lee County's turnovers and having trouble getting on the same page as his receiving corps, which was without star wideout Devontae Seay, who sat out with an injury but should be back and 100 percent healthy next week.
"That was awful," Collier said. "I think we were just too tight. Obviously this was an important game. It was the first round of the playoffs. I think everybody wanted it so much that we didn't play like ourselves.
"To be the team that we need to be, we need to be relaxed and have fun."
The Trojans were poised to score on their third possession until Collier was picked off by Effingham’s Dusty Baker near the goal line. After the teams traded punts on the next two possessions, the Trojans worked their way into Effingham territory midway through the second quarter. Collier mishandled the snap, however, and threw off his back foot into coverage for his second pick of the game.
The Ohio State commit kept his composure and directed a scoring drive on the Trojans’ next possession, finishing it with a 10-yard rushing touchdown to give Lee County a 14-0 lead.
Lee County kicker Michael Langston, who was 4-for-4 on PATs, missed two field goals in the final two minutes of the half: a 38-yard kick that hit the top of the left upright before bouncing back into the end zone and a 48-yard boot that was on line but short.
The Rebels capitalized on Collier’s third turnover of the game when Effingham’s Daquare Hunter recovered a fumble near midfield, leading to a 13-yard TD pass on third-and-goal from quarterback Phillip Brown to Tyjon Williams. That brought the Rebels to within a score of Lee County, but Trojan senior Kevin Hopkins blocked the PAT, keeping Lee County ahead 14-6 as the closing minutes of the third quarter ticked away.
With 9:34 left in the game, Collier found Taylor wide open in the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown pass on third-and-long to give Lee County a 21-9 lead.
Trojan senior Da’Quan Jamison got an interception with 2:12 left, and Collier ran in for his second TD of the game with 1:35 left to ice the victory.