Monroe’s Brandon Gordon, center, hasn’t had many chances to shine at running back for the Tornadoes this year, but he made the most of it Friday night, helping lead Monroe to a big Region 1-AAA win against Worth County. (Lee Johnson/Sylvester Local)
SYLVESTER -- Earlier in the week Monroe offensive line coach Travis Lockhart said: "If we can beat Worth County the fireworks will begin.''
Well, somebody pass the bottle rockets ...
Monroe looks like it's ready to light up the Region 1-AAA race.
The Tornadoes didn't just turn their season around with a 27-6 victory against Worth County on Friday night, they turned it around in 20 seconds.
So if these kids, these hard-luck, can't-get-a-break kids from Lippitt Avenue find themselves dancing into the playoffs next month, you can bet Lockhart's quote will be engraved somewhere in the locker room, and the theme "Twenty Tornado Seconds'' might just end up on green and gold T-shirts.
"Ooooh ... we needed this,'' said Monroe coach Charles Truitt, who watched his team score two touchdowns within a 20-second span just before halftime to take a 14-6 lead. "I needed it. My kids needed it. We needed it. We needed it bad -- real bad.''
Monroe is only 3-4, but the Tornadoes are now 1-2 in the Region 1-AAA and Friday's win opened the door to a possible run into the playoffs for a team that has played much better than its record in a snakebit season.
"We've been having all the breaks go the other way this year,'' Truitt said. "(Friday) we got the breaks.''
Worth County coach Scotty Ward agreed.
"They did. They got a bunch of breaks tonight,'' said Ward, whose team seemed to get the wind knocked out of it when quarterback Savon Farley left the game in the second quarter with a thigh injury.
Farley returned to start the second half, but by then Monroe had seized the lead, the momentum and the game.
Farley left with Worth leading 6-0 and 4:25 left in the half, and the Rams were never the same.
"I didn't mean to hurt him and I'm sorry he got hurt,'' said Monroe defensive end Vantrel McMillian, who sacked Farley and knocked him out of the game. "But I think he's the best guy on their team, and when he left it gave us a little relief. You could see it changed their team.''
Monroe's defense simply shut down Worth for the rest of the half, and came up with a tremendous stand during the final minutes after Monroe's Devine Noel was ruled inches short of a first down at the Worth 1-yard-line with one-yard line with 1:22 left in the half.
Truitt used all three of his time-outs and his defense held Worth to only one yard of offense, forcing the Rams to punt on fourth-and-nine from the 2-yard-line with 1:01 left.
"I did think about taking a saftey there,'' Ward said later. "But I thought we could punt it to them and they would still have to score.''
Monroe took over at the 27, and it took one play -- a 27-yard TD toss from Charles Stafford to Tereverious Hudson, who took a five-yard toss and then raced up the left sidleline to score with 45 seconds left.
"It wasn't a big play,'' Ward said. "It was a five-yard out. Our linebacker (just) never got there.''
Stafford saw the same thing.
"It was busted coverage,'' said the sophomore QB who competed 11-of-17 passes for 140 yards and the one TD to Hudson. "But that was a big play.''
A bigger play came 20 seconds later when McMillian scooped up a fumble and danced into the end zone with a 35-yard TD return with 25 seconds left.
"Wooooah! I had to shout when I got to the end zone,'' McMillian said. "That felt great. I grabbed the ball, and I saw nothing but the end zone.''
Suddenly, the Tornadoes, who had scored just seven points in their first two region games, had 14 points in 20 seconds. Hudson added PAT kicks to both TDs.
"That 14 points in 20 seconds energized us,'' Stafford said. "It energized me. I was thinking we can't be stopped.''
He was right.
Stafford and the Nadas took the second half kickoff and -- after a 10-yard penalty -- drove 82 yards and took control on Stafford's 6-yard TD run. Stafford went 3-for-4 for 40 yards on the drive, and seldom-used Brandon Gordon, who came off the bench to gain 55 yards for Monroe, busted free for a 31-yard run to the Worth 12 to ignite the drive. Hudson's third PAT kick made it a 21-6 game with 9:53 left in the third.
"That drive at the beginning of the third quarter was the key,'' Truitt said. "That was the best drive we've had this year.''
Even with the return of Farley, who ran for 22 yards despite being sacked three times, and threw for 75 yards, Worth never got its offense going, and it seemed every time the Rams would break a big play, a penalty would kill it.
"I don't even know what to say,'' Ward said. "It seemed like everything that could go wrong did go wrong.''
Monroe knows the feeling.
But the Tornadoes never felt better than after this one. They know they have three games left and if they win two of them, they're in the playoffs.
"We're going to win all three,'' said Noel, a Herald Dynamite Dozen selection who had a monster game, playing both ways. He did a little of everything, catching a couple of passes, rushing for 22 yards and scoring on a 4-yard-run with 3:52 left in the game to put it away. He also had one of Monroe's two interceptions.
"Devine had a great game for us,'' Truitt said. "We are so banged up we had to play him on defense, and he did a great job on defense for us. He never came off the field.''
It was also Noel's birthday.
"This was a game we had to win,'' Noel said. "This is a season-turner. We're turning it around. It's one down, three to go. We're going to win all three. We won, and that means we're still alive. We're alive in the region. Let's go for it.''