Albany’s Andrico Carter, left, breaks up a pass intended for Monroe’s Devine Noel during Saturday’s city rivalry game at Hugh Mills Stadium. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY -- Was he, or wasn't he?
That depends on which side of town you live and which side of the end zone you were on late Saturday when Albany High held off Monroe, 14-13, to beat the Tornadoes for the first time since 1989 with a play for the ages that left Monroe six inches short.
Monroe's Tereverious Hudson made the catch -- the 4-yard gotta-have catch -- on the final play of the game, but where did he catch the ball? Hudson was standing at the goal line when the ball and Albany's Elliot Martin hit him at the same time.
Martin's hit drove Hudson to the turf, and the officials marked the ball six inches short of the goal line.
Monroe coach Charles Truitt couldn't believe it and was furious as he ran on the field, but Truitt bit his tongue and his lip -- and everything else -- and didn't say a word publicly.
Hudson said he was in. Martin said, no way.
It was agonizing for Monroe. Tantalizing for Albany High.
"I jumped so high, so high... I don't even know what to say. I'm speechless. It was emotional,'' Martin said. Then he stopped and answered the obvious question.
"Yeah, it was the best play of my life,'' he added.
Martin had no doubt about the call.
"He wasn't in,'' said Martin, had a monster night, picking off two passes before his game-saving play. "We both had our hands on the ball, and he fell with it. I knew he wasn't in."
They went crazy at Albany High, leaping toward the heavens as a few feet away, Monroe players stood in shock -- some in tears, and all in disbelief.
Hudson didn't want to talk about the play, other than to say he was in the end zone. He then walked off in silence.
No one was sure what the call would be.
"I just stood there staring at the ref,'' said Herald Dynamite Dozen two-way lineman Jontavious Morris, who had another huge night for Albany High. "I kept waiting for him to put two hands up (the signal for a touchdown). But he didn't. When you play hard then luck can come your way.''
Albany High coach Felton Williams felt the same way.
"It's about time for luck to be on our side,'' he said. "If you play hard luck can find you.''
They've had some hard luck at Albany High, and it appeared that once again the Indians were going to fall when Monroe staged a heart-stopping drive in the final 1:06 of the game, driving from the 50 to the six-inch line on the strength of QB Charles Stafford's arm.
Stafford hit 5 of 7 passes on the final drive -- covering 49 yards 2 feet and six inches -- and finished the night completing 17 of 36 for 234 yards and two TDs: a 48-yard beauty to Kevin Williams in the second quarter and a 17-yarder to Hudson, who made a leaping catch in the end zone to lift Monroe to a 13-7 lead with 8:06 left in the third.
He hit Williams with a 23-yarder to start the final drive, and completed passes to Hudson and Brandon Gordon. And then Stafford made another huge play when he hit Williams, who finished with six catches for 116 yards, with a 10-yarder from the 12 to the 2-yard line with 32 seconds left. But Roscoe Byrd threw tailback Devine Noel for a two-yard loss back to the 4-yard line on a play that would have ended the game. But a Monroe injury stopped the clock with 7.3 seconds left and Stafford made one last completion -- to Hudson.
"That's a hard way to lose,'' Truitt said as he nodded his head in silence. "Yeah, the hardest. It was a great drive. The kids kept playing. They didn't quit. It shouldn't have come down to that play. But it did.''
It might not have if not for Juwon Young and Eric Carrillo. Young is a head-first grit and guts 220-pound linebacker/offensive lineman who runs through brick walls. Carrillo is tiny, about 5-3 and 120 pounds. Albany needed both of them.
It was Young who blocked Cedrick Johnson's PAT after Hudson's TD catch that kept the game at 13-7, and it was Carillo, a freshman who plays soccer, who kicked the deciding extra point with 5:48 left in the game.
"I saw there was a big split between their linemen,'' Young said. "I just leaned my shoulder in and went between them and got to the ball. It felt great, real great.''
Young played both ways and helped ignite Albany's offensive line in the second half. Monroe destroyed it in the first half and sacked QB Emmanul Byrd five times.
But Williams moved his two best linemen around, switching Roscoe Byrd from guard to tackle and moving Morris from tackle to center, and he also inserted Young in at tackle.
"We made some adjustments at halftime,'' AHS coach Williams said. "We needed to get our running game going and we needed to give Byrd time to throw. When he has time he can put the ball anywhere he wants.''
Albany is now 2-1 and Monroe, which is ranked No. 5 in The Herald Fab 5 poll, drops to 2-1. Albany's only loss was last week -- a tough 13-7 defeat to Westover.
"I looked at that 13-7 (against Monroe) and I was thinking, 'Not again,' " the Indians coach said. "I can't explain how good this feels. That was a hell of a play, and yeah, he made the right call. Winning like this ... I'm spellbound.''
Roscoe Byrd started the comeback for Albany when he recovered a fumble on the third play of the second half at the Monroe 20, and his brother Emmanul ran twice, scoring on a 1-yard run. Carrillo made it 7-7, then Emmanul Byrd put the ball right where he wanted it on a 41-yard TD pass to Jeconiah Jackson, who beat the secondary deep to knot things at 13-13. Then Carrillo made the biggest kick of his three-week old career, and Albany hung on for life.
"This was a blood, sweat and tears game,'' Roscoe Byrd said. "Plays like that (the final play) can go either way. Thankfully, we got the call.''