LEESBURG -- It came down to the last two minutes and 26 seconds.
The Lee County Trojans trailed the Tigers of Mundy’s Mill by six points in the second round of the GHSA playoffs late Friday.
Win or lose, the Trojans had played arguably their greatest season in school history, entering the game with a record of 10-1. Their homegrown, boy-wonder quarterback already has a spot waiting for him at the Big Ten’s premier institution for college football, and support from the community had risen to an all-time high.
Notwithstanding all the accomplishments, the Trojans wanted more. They wanted the thing that has eluded them since their football program came to be: a state championship.
Getting there meant coming back in a game in which they trailed almost the entire night, one where they found themselves needing to make a play with their backs against the wall as those final seconds ticked off the clock.
The game-winning play, however, fell just short for the Herald No. 1 Trojans, who lost to Mundy's Mill, 41-35, ending an iconic season in Leesburg.
The potential game-winning drive was nearly one for the ages.
Starting from their own 40-yard line with just over two minutes left, the Trojans quickly got three first downs and were 25 yards away from tying the game. Looking at a fourth-and-10, star quarterback and Ohio State commit Stephen Collier dropped back, shifted to the right and fired the ball down the middle a few yards shy of the goal line.
After a couple moments of silence from the crowd as they looked to see if the ball was completed, Collier’s intended receiver, Bernard McCray, emerged from the ground holding the ball in the air signaling a catch. But just as the stadium began to erupt in elation, the side official made a different signal, a signal of incomplete.
His signal was the one that ultimately counted.
The ball fell short — and so did the Trojans’ hope of reaching the next round of the playoffs. Final score: 41-35 Tigers.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a better team; these guys are my brothers and we fought to the end,” an emotional yet composed Collier said after the game. “Hats off to Mundy’s Mill. They did everything they needed to do, and we just came up a little short.”
Regardless of the outcome of the final drive, one might be hard-pressed to say Collier, who had a hand in all five touchdowns scored by the Trojans, came up short in his performance. Not only did he get it done in the air with 238 passing yards and two touchdowns, but he rushed for 154 yards and three touchdowns.
“It wasn’t enough obviously,” Collier said bluntly when asked about his performance. “We didn’t win the game, so it wasn’t enough. That’s all.”
His coach begged to differ.
“Stephen’s done so much for this football team during his time here and he played his heart out,” Lee County head coach Dean Fabrizio confidently said. “I am very proud of him and the effort he gave, as well as the whole team and everything they’ve accomplished this year. We’re sad we came up short [Friday night], but I couldn’t be prouder of these kids.”
In virtually every sense, the game lived up to its hype between two powerful offenses. After fumbling the ball away on their first drive, the Trojans quickly yielded a touchdown to their opponent, forcing them into an early hole.
A second fumble from Collier had some wondering if he and his teammates were too amped up. This fumble, however, was recovered back by Lee, and the Trojans began to settle down and play their style of football. They eventually reached the end zone when Collier hit a wide open J.Q. Quimbley on a slant route from eight yards out.
Despite being the underdog, Mundy’s Mill came to play. After a successful fake punt run on fourth down, the Tigers began their onslaught on the ground, namely in the form of Rodney Smith.
Running through tacklers all night, Smith made his first of four trips to the end zone from 34 yards away. He finished the game with 266 rushing yards.
“The line did an incredible job all night,” Smith said. “I think two of my (big) runs I went untouched, so my line did an amazing job. I made it to the second level (of the defense) and turned on the jets.”
Down a score, Collier responded the ensuing drive by calmly dropping back and throwing a bomb up the right side to Devontae Seay for 65 yards. Knotted at 14-14, a shootout appeared to be brewing.
Still in the first quarter, opposing quarterback Rodricous Gates showed he too could deliver a big pass to receivers by hooking up with his tight end RaeKwan Norman for 28 yards. Three plays later Smith rushed in from 12 yards out.
Midway through the second quarter, the Trojans capped off a long drive with Collier running it in from the 1-yard line.
The cheers from fans were short-lived as Smith ran left off tackle and sprinted into the end zone for a 54-yard touchdown on Mundy's Mill's next drive..
Just before halftime the Tigers went up by two scores when Gates found Eric Tate in the corner of the end zone.
In the second half, the pendulum started to swing in favor of the Trojans. After recovering a fumble from Smith, the Trojans let Collier make a play with his legs as he rushed in from nine yards away.
But once again Smith quelled the excitement, bouncing out to his left, running untouched for a 62-yard touchdown and redeeming himself in the process.
The Trojans cut the deficit to six when Collier ran in for his third score, but the lead would be trimmed no more.