ALBANY — The conspiracy theories are everywhere about this week’s second straight Herald Fab 5 matchup featuring the Nos. 1 and 2 teams.
But the reality is, at this moment, Lee County and Westover are the two best high school football teams in Southwest Georgia — and in that order.
The Herald No. 1 Trojans (2-0), who started the season at the top and have done nothing so far to show they don’t belong there after knocking off No. 2 Albany last week by 30 points, will host the recently-anointed No. 2 Patriots (1-1) this evening in Leesburg.
For Lee County coach Dean Fabrizio, the rankings are special and coveted by his team.
For Westover’s Octavia Jones … well, not so much.
“Rankings don’t mean anything to us,” he said Thursday. “It’s just business as usual. Another week, another game. Time to try for another win.”
Fabrizio doesn’t subscribe to that philosophy one bit, saying Thursday his kids feel “honored to be The Herald’s No. 1 team.”
“We do talk about it. The kids love it. It’s a great honor to be ranked No. 1, and we’ve been fortunate to be in that spot several times during the last couple of seasons,” said the fourth-year Trojans coach. “It’s a lot of fun for us, and we love that it’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 again. Our kids are excited to prove themselves once again.”
Lee is coming off two straight thumpings of Albany city schools (55-6 vs. Dougherty and 42-12 vs. Albany) and will look for No. 3 tonight against the Patriots, who lost their opener to Tift, 19-3, but rebounded by beating a tough Jonesboro team on the road last week, 7-0.
Jones knows, however, Jonesboro is not nearly the team Lee County is, especially since the Trojans have one heck of a weapon in quarterback and Dynamite Dozen selection Stephen Collier, who is headed to Ohio State next season. Collier’s got 11 touchdowns in his first two games — six passing and five rushing — and has thrown for 465 yards and rushed for 142 more.
“He’s a great thrower and does a good job running it, too. Even if we flush him out of the pocket, we have to have someone there to contain him,” Jones said of Westover’s approach to stopping Collier. “If we can keep the mistakes to a minimum, I think we match up well with them. I say that because I think we have a little better numbers, a little more depth, than the first two teams they played. And I think when you face a team like Lee County with so much depth, you have to have the guys to keep up. And we have those guys.”
Yes, they do.
Westover, like Lee, has two Herald Dynamite Dozen selections. Shannon Saunders, a 6-foot-3, 218-pound bruising running back, will do his best to steamroll the Lee County defense, while 6-foot-5, 290-pound defensive lineman Trenton Thompson, who is being recruited by nearly every Division I school West of the Mississippi, will be trying to chase down Collier (6-4, 210) all night. Trying to stop Thompson will be Lee’s other DD, 6-3, 310-pound offensive lineman Jesse Freeman, who has already committed to Division I Louisiana-Lafayette.
“Westover has a lot of size, lot of speed,” said Fabrizio, who is 1-1 against Westover in his four years at Lee, losing in 2009, 34-13, in his first season before avenging that loss last year, 42-28. “They definitely present some challenges for us.”
Jones hopes so, although he’s aware of one area of his team’s game that needs to be cleaned up before tonight.
“Turnovers,” he said. “We’ve had six through two games. That’s why we haven’t scored many points. We get the ball in the red zone and can’t convert or make a mistake. You can’t do that against a team like Lee and expect to win. We have to be mistake-free (tonight).”