LEESBURG — The Herald No. 1 Lee County Trojans knew they’d have a bulls-eye on their back this season. They’re undefeated, they look to be the class of Region 1-AAAAA, along with Thomas County Central. Not to mention, their starting QB is already committed to one of the most prestigious programs in the country.
The Dodge County Indians were bent on stopping Herald Dynamite Dozen selection Stephen Collier the best way they knew how: keeping him off the field. Dodge County leaned on their running game relentlessly, holding the ball for about three-fourths of the first quarter alone.
For about three whole quarters, the visitors’ plan seemed to be working; yet somewhere along the way, the Trojans defense just pinned their ears back and decided they’d had enough, doing just enough to win their last non-region contest, 28-14.
“We’ve got to realize it’s not going to be easy,” Lee County head coach Dean Fabrizio said afterwards, “we’ve gotten used to coming out and jumping up big really early. It kinda shocked us when we weren’t up big in the first quarter. Dodge County came in with a good gameplan and took the fight to us early. It took us a little bit to get our bearings and adjust. We needed that. We needed to play a whole game.”
It was a tough night for Ohio State commit Collier Not only was he off the field for the majority of the half, his receivers dropped at least six catchable balls before the break.
“We just weren’t executing,” Collier said of the slow start. “Hats off to Dodge County, but if we would’ve executed, we would’ve had a much better start.”
The Trojans gained just 77 offensive yards in the first two quarters. But as Division-1 caliber players should, Collier found a way to make the most of his time on the field.
“Our philosophy is always to take what the defense gives us,” Fabrizio said. “We made some mistakes, we just have to go in and get those things cleaned up. We’ve got region play coming up, and we needed to know these teams are going to fight.”
After a 46-yard screen pass from Landon Martin to Marlek Lamb put Dodge up 7-0, the Trojans found themselves trailing for the first time all season.
The game featured six fumbles in total, though only four resulted in changes of possessions. Penalties negated touchdowns for both teams. After a tough first half for the Trojans, the front seven essentially shut down the Indians’ Wing-T offense.
Middle linebacker Dextric Green was in on most of the tackles for the Trojans.
“We just had to stay focused,” he said. “We knew our focus is what keeps us motivated. It wasn’t anything different they were doing. We see it in practice every day. We had to slow down and get ourselves together.”
“Defensively, I thought we did a good job. We had a few lapses. Early on, we lost field position, and it took us a while to get it back, but for the most part, our defense rose to the occasion.”
To begin the Indians’ third offensive possession, a forced fumble by senior Kevin Hopkins gave the Trojans the ball. On the next play, Lamb recovered and returned a Collier fumble 35 yards for a touchdown, which was called back because of a penalty. The Indians retained possession on the very next play when Marquiz Williams stripped the ball from Indians quarterback Landon Martin, on his way to a 73-yard scoop-and-score to tie the game at seven apiece. The Trojans got the ball back, trotted down the field, and took the lead 14-7 thanks to a goal-line plunge by Willie Kelly with 4:11 left in the half.
After another methodical drive orchestrated by Collier, PJ Taylor gave the Trojans the lead for good with a 1-yard touchdown run.
“We were playing sloppy,” Collier said. "We’ve got to tighten up during the week, focus on getting the little things right. Once you get to region, everything counts. Every mistake counts. You’ve got to be crisp and focused. That’s what we’re going to strive for this week.”
Junior tailback Jamal Gardner led the way for the Trojans with 135 total yards, 89 of those receiving yards. Collier finished 11-for-25 for 167 yards and a touchdown run.
The Trojans start their region schedule at Hardaway next Friday. The Trojans won 36-21 in the teams’ last meeting.