After throwing for 225 yards and two touchdowns during Monroe's do-or-die 27-10 win against Westover, which sent the Tornadoes to the playoffs, Monroe quarteback Charles Stafford was all smiles.
ALBANY -- The Monroe kids were waving to the crowd with 1:50 left.
There they were, standing there, right in the middle of Hugh Mills Stadium, shouting and waving, telling the Tornado faithful to raise their voices -- telling them to stand on their feet.
That's what Monroe did Friday night.
The kids from Lippitt Drive stood up, taller than any team in the Good Life City after beating Westover, 27-10, in a do-or-die game that not only decided the city championship, but sent Monroe into the Class AAA playoffs on a high note.
"The best,'' Monroe coach Charles Truitt said. "That's the best game we've played all year -- the best game by far.''
Timing is everything.
A loss would have ended Monroe's season. It did end Westover's.
Everyone in Albany knew the winner-goes-to-the-playoffs and the loser-goes-home scenario that hung over this game.
"This was a playoff game,'' said Monroe's Hakeem Porter, a Herald Dynamite Dozen selection who led Monroe's O-line all night. When he wasn't knocking people down, he was shouting to his teammates to keep up the intensity that seemed to be with Monroe from the minute the Tornadoes walked onto the field.
"They wanted it more than we wanted it,'' Westover coach Octavia Jones said. "They came out and took it to us.''
Monroe (5-5 overall) had to win to get in, and survived a bizarre three-way tiebreaker with Worth County and Crisp County. They all finished at 3-3 in the Region 1-AAA race. Worth beat Crisp, 28-7, on Friday to create a three-way tie for the last two playoff spots, and they had to break out a series of tiebreakers to sort out which team finished third and which was fourth.
The third tiebreaker was points allowed against the other two teams, and Worth and Monroe both allowed 34 points, knocking Crisp, which allowed 53 points against Worth and Monroe, out of the picture.
The fourth tiebreaker is head-to-head, and Monroe earned the third spot in the region because the Tornadoes beat Worth, 27-6, earlier in the year. Worth landed in the playoffs, finishing fourth in the region and now plays at Peach County.
Monroe will go on the road against state-ranked Baldwin next Friday to open the Class AAA playoffs, while Westover ends the season at 2-4 in the region and 4-6 overall.
"This was our first playoff game. We've got five more (to win the state title),'' said Monroe's Devine Noel, a Dynamite Dozen player who played running back and defensive back.
"It was do-or-die, and we did what we had to do,'' Noel added.
Monroe's defense did not give up a touchdown all night. Westover's only points came in the third quarter on a 27-yard field goal from Janek Friderichs and an 80-yard kickoff return from Kenneth Towns that closed the gap to 27-10 with 1:58 left in the third.
By then it was all but over.
Monroe quarterback Charles Stafford didn't have to throw a pass in the fourth quarter as Truitt just milked the clock with his running game. Stafford had done plenty before then. He completed 13-of-19 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns, both to Treverious Hudson, who caught a 20-yarder to get Monroe on the board with 5:50 let in the first half and a 62-yarder with 2:10 left in the third that gave Monroe a 27-3 lead.
"It felt great to catch that (62-yard TD) pass,'' said Hudson, who finished with five receptions for 130 yards.
Stafford was more emphatic.
"When he caught that pass it was like hitting the lottery,'' Stafford said. "That did it. They lost their momentum after that play.''
Stafford, who has thrown for more than 2,000 yards this season, had another big game.
"I knew I would have a monster game against them,'' Stafford said. "They don't have a secondary. I knew it all week. I knew we could beat them.''
Westover's secondary is one of the best in Southwest Georgia and entered the game with 13 interceptions, and the Patriots' defense had more than 30 sacks entering the season finale.
But Stafford was sacked only twice, and had tons of time to throw as Porter and the Monroe offensive line kept Westover off of him.
"We stayed focused,'' Porter said. "I told them, 'Don't get caught up in all the chit-chat.' We did what we were supposed to do.''
Truitt said "Westover has a great secondary,'' and added that his quarterback had a big game because of the line protecting him, and because Stafford played smart all night.
"Our offensive line had a wonderful game,'' Truitt said. "Our offensive and defensive lines controlled the line of scrimmage, and Charles had a great game. He ran the offense, and almost every big play came when he checked off (and changed the play). And the big thing is we were able to run the football. Our offensive line really did a wonderful job.''
Brandon Gordon got most of the carries, and gained 105 yards on 17 carries and scored on a 10-yard run with 4:46 left in the third to lift Monroe to a 21-3 lead. Noel also scored on a 9-yard run to give Monroe a 14-0 halftime lead.
"We had a complete game from the defense and the offense,'' Stafford said. "We finally had a game together. The defense was great. They never scored on our defense.''
Westover had chances, but dropped at least three would-be touchdown passes, not to mention other drops all over the field.
"Dropped passes,'' Jones said. "Dropped passes all night long. It just killed us. It seemed like they caught everything they threw and we dropped passes all night.''
Westover quarterback T.J. Cromer completed 16-of-34 passes for 159 yards, and Westover's vaunted running game was almost non-existent because of a hamstring injury to Dalviness Greene, who played sparingly and gained 14 yards on four carries.
"Not having (Greene), that hurt them a lot,'' Truitt said. "It kind of knocked the wind out of them.''
Monroe did some knocking, too.
"We came out ready to play,'' Truitt said. "And (our players) began to gain confidence as the game wore on. Everyone knew it was do-or-die.
"We played our best game ... our best game.''