PREVIEW: Herald No. 1 Trojans ready for another region battle

LEESBURG — Stephen Collier wants another chance.

Another chance to make everybody forget about last Friday’s blowout loss to Thomas County Central in a game that media outlets around South Georgia dubbed as their “Game of the Week.”

Another chance to prove that this year’s Trojans have what it takes to hang with the best in Region 1-AAAAA.

Collier and his Trojan teammates don’t have to wait long for a crack at redemption when they host defending region champion Harris County tonight in a game Herald No. 1 Lee County needs to win to keep its hopes alive of hosting a state playoff game.

“Obviously this is a game we want to win to show people that we can win,” said Collier, Lee County’s Dynamite Dozen quarterback who is committed to Ohio State. “We can show people that we are legit and a really good football team. We have to go out there and play loose and not make it such a big game to where we are tight.”

Of course, tonight’s game is a big game for both Lee County (6-1, 1-1 Region 1-AAAAA) and Harris County (6-1, 2-0), who are receiving votes in the Georgia Sportswriters Association state poll — Lee County was ranked eighth last week but dropped out after the 45-14 loss to TCC — and are fighting for a home game in the opening round of the playoffs.

“We know that if we want to host a game in the first round of the playoffs, this is a game we need to win,” Fabrizio said. “We understand the ramifications of this game. We talked about it even before the TCC game. We knew we had a big one right after we played TCC.”

Lee County found itself in the same situation last season when it lost a hyped-up game to TCC and then turned around and lost to Harris County the following week. On Wednesday, Fabrizio called last year’s loss to Harris County the Trojans’ worst regular season game of 2012.

The message in Leesburg this week has been to forget about TCC and focus on Harris — and not let last season repeat itself.

“We have definitely made them aware of (last season),” Fabrizio said. “We let that TCC loss lag on (last year). We wanted to refocus ourselves right away this year.”

Harris County is riding a six-game winning streak and has won 14 of its last 16 games dating back to last season. The past two years the Tigers have jumped on the back of running back Esaias Chapman, a Division I recruit who has already rushed for 1,122 yards in seven games and averages a region-best 178.9 all-purpose yards per game.

Last year, Chapman rushed for an eye-popping 274 yards in a 35-31 win against Lee County and ended the season with 2,124 yards.

“Their running back and quarterback (Blake Berry) are very, very good athletes,” Fabrizio said. “We have to play responsibility football and keep them under control.”

Berry has thrown for 485 yards and four TDs, numbers that pale in comparison to those of Collier, who has thrown for 1,258 yards and 12 TDs and has run for 537 yards and 11 TDs.

Collier said he and his teammates have had a good week of preparation for tonight’s game.

“A lot of people were upset Friday after the loss to TCC, but we had time to soak it in over the weekend, and I was proud of how they responded this whole week,” Collier said. “It has been a really good week of practice.”

Six turnovers against Thomas County Central kept Lee County from threatening on offense, and Fabrizio said ball security has been an emphasis this week.

“We can’t turn the ball over six times and expect to be in the game,” Fabrizio said. “That’s one thing we really tried to address this week. On the other side, we have to do a better job of forcing turnovers.”

Tonight’s contest is the first of a three-game homestand to end the regular season for Lee County, which is 4-0 in Leesburg this year. After hosting Harris County, the Trojans will play Northside, Columbus on Nov. 1 and Bainbridge on Nov. 8.