ALBANY -- Monroe came oh so close to picking up its first region 1-AAA victory of the year Friday night at Hugh Mills Stadium -- by 3 feet to be exact.
With just 43 seconds left in the game and trailing Crisp County 14-13, the Tornadoes' Terevious Hudson pushed his attempt at a game-winning 30-yard field goal just wide left as the visiting Cougars handed Monroe its fifth straight loss.
"We've been having games like this all year," a dejected Monroe coach Charles Truitt said after his team fell to 3-5 and 0-4. "We just can't seem to make the plays that will help us win games. But we're a young team and we're still playing hard. We'll get better."
The turning point in the game came with the score tied 7-7 midway in the third period after Monroe had driven from its 41 to the Crisp 14. Tornadoes quarterback Devine Noel, who had accounted for all 45 yards in the drive, had to leave the game after taking a lick to the knee during a 7-yard run.
Freshman Charles Strafford entered the contest facing a third and 1 at the Cougars seven-yard line. Stafford made a good pitch but the ball was fumbled and scooped up by Crisp's Devointe Lewis, who sprinted 90 yards the other way for a 14-7 Cougars lead with 5:30 remaining in the third.
"Yes, losing Devine at that point really hurt us," Truitt said. "We had a nice drive going and had some momentum. That fumble really took a lot out of us."
Crisp County, which improved to 4-4 and 3-1 in region play, turned the ball over three times in the first half as Monroe took a 7-0 lead at the half on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Noel to Johntavious Strum.
"We didn't play very well in the first half," Crisp Coach Sean Penders said. "But we stuck to the script and executed better in the beginning of the second half."
The Cougars opened the second half with an 11-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by Treavor Shealy's 17-yard touchdown pass to Michael Paul to tie the game at 7-all with 8:05 to go in the period. Monroe then took the ensuing kickoff and drove to the Crisp 7, where the game-changing fumble took place.
The teams then swapped possessions before Stafford completed four straight passes to move Monroe from its 33 to the Crisp 14, where he hit Dominique Reid with a 14-yard scoring pass. The PAT, however, failed and Monroe trailed 14-13 with 10:37 remaining in the game.
With 3:10 remaining, Hudson's 46-yard punt pinned Crisp inside its five where the Cougars went three-and-out and punted the ball back to Monroe, which took over at its 44 with 1:36 to go. Stafford then tossed a 37-yard pass to Strum to give the Tornadoes first-and-goal at the Crisp 7.
Stafford, however, was sacked, then threw two straight incompletions before Hudson came on to attempt the game-winning kick.
"We are a young team, but we fought hard (Friday night)," Truitt said. "We still have plenty to play for. We've still got Dougherty and Westover in front us. We'll learn from this."
Monroe will face Dougherty on Friday at Hugh Mills, while Crisp entertains Cairo on Friday.