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Cairo turns close game vs. Monroe into blowout

Cairo’s Donald Thomas returns a Monroe pass 31 yards for a TD Friday night --- a play that broke open a tight game and turned it into a 33-7 Syrupmakers rout. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Cairo’s Donald Thomas returns a Monroe pass 31 yards for a TD Friday night --- a play that broke open a tight game and turned it into a 33-7 Syrupmakers rout. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

ALBANY --Three plays flipped the script in the fourth quarter Friday for Cairo High.

The Syrupmakers used a huge 21-point scoring spree in the final period of its GHSA Region 1-AAA opener against Monroe to turn what could have been a fourth-quarter battle into a 33-7 Cairo win.

Leading just 12-7 headed into the final 12 minutes, senior Syrupmakers quarterback Steven Bench broke free on a 36-yard keeper to open up the lead just nine seconds into the final quarter. Bench ran for two scores in the win and finished with 119 yards rushing on seven carries.

Bench also completed 4-of-6 passes for 74 yards and another score.

"It felt good to finally get it right," Bench said of Cairo's 2-2 start before Friday's win. "We haven't been playing like Cairo the first four games. We came out and did everything right like we should."

Needing an answer, the Tornadoes fell victim to another early-season mistake when quarterback Charles Stafford was picked off by Cairo defensive back Donald Thomas. Thomas went untouched 31 yards for the score, turning a one-score game into a Cairo 26-7 lead in less than two minutes.

"We felt good going into the second half," Monroe head coach Charles Truitt said. "We just made a couple of mistakes and they capitalized."

Bench followed that up with his first scoring strike of the night, a picture-perfect 49-yard throw to Zaye Donaldson that put the Syrupmakers (3-2, 1-0 Region 1-AAA) up 33-7 with 7:43 left.

"He made a better catch than throw I think," Bench said. "It's about time we completed a deep ball."

Monroe (2-3, 0-1 Region 1-AAA) struck first when Stafford delivered a beauty of his own, hitting Terevious Hudson on a 35-yard pass to give the Tornadoes an early 7-0 lead less than six minutes in.

They threatened twice more in the first half, but turned the ball over on downs at the Cairo 25 and 11. Eight first-half penalties for 60 yards didn't help matters. It was that kind of night for Monroe, which tallied 15 first downs to Cairo's seven for the game and outgained the Syrupmakers in the first half (156-131).

"We drove the ball," Truitt said. "We just had a hard time getting the ball in the end zone. We played well in the first half. We really did."

Bench answered Monroe's early punch with a 1-yard quarterback sneak near the end of the first quarter. Monroe still led when the point-after attempt missed.

Cairo fumbled away a punt that was recovered by Monroe's Jamil Upshaw in Syrupmakers territory in the second quarter, but Monroe couldn't capitalize, so Cairo did. Bench broke off a 65-yard run inside the Tornadoes' 5-yard line and Terrell Cason punched it in from three yards out to give Cairo a 12-7 lead six minutes before the break after a second PAT went awry.

Cason finished with 55 yards on 16 carries.

The final numbers showed two evenly matched teams, even if the scoreboard didn't. Cairo outgained Monroe, 278-260. Hudson piled up 90 receiving yards on five catches for Monroe, while Devine Noel ran for 72 yards on 20 carries. Stafford finished with 179 yards passing, completing 13-of-26 with one interception and one touchdown.

"The score doesn't reflect how hard the kids played," said Truitt, whose team goes to Americus-Sumter next Friday. "The kids know we're not going to give up."

Cairo is off before traveling to Hugh Mills Stadium again in two weeks to face Dougherty.