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Cairo denies Monroe region title

Monroe’s Kevin Williams, left, tries to escape the tackle of Cairo’s Paul Davis during Friday’s huge Region 1-AAAA showdown. Cairo won, 28-20, to clinch the region crown for the fifth straight year. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Monroe’s Kevin Williams, left, tries to escape the tackle of Cairo’s Paul Davis during Friday’s huge Region 1-AAAA showdown. Cairo won, 28-20, to clinch the region crown for the fifth straight year. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

ALBANY -- Well, as they say: Cairo is Cairo.

The Syrupmakers proved it again Friday night at Hugh Mills Stadium, where they beat Monroe, 28-20, to wrap up their third region title in a row with a week left in the season.

Cairo (6-0 in Region 1-AAAA and 7-2 overall) plays Dougherty next week, but even if the Trojans beat Cairo, the Syrupmakers still win the region because they beat Westover, which is in second place with a game against Albany High next Saturday.

Herald Dynamite Dozen quarterback Charles Stafford completed 25-of-39 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns, and also ran for a 2-yard TD.

Stafford threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Williams, who had eight receptions for 107 yards, and a 20-yard TD pass to Emanuel Davis, who had nine receptions for 123 yards.

But even on a night when Monroe's air game was as good as any in Southwest Georgia, it wasn't enough to overcome Cairo and a 14-0 halftime deficit.

"We had to play catchup,'' Stafford said. "We made too many mistakes and they executed and took advantage of our mistakes. We just came out too late and got behind, and had to play catchup.''

The loss means Monroe (4-2 in the region and 6-3 overall) will be the No. 3 seed out of the region and have to go on the road in the opening round of the state playoffs.

"I like being on the road,'' said Stafford, who helped lead Monroe to the second round of the playoffs on the road last year. "We will come back from this. We need to take care of our mistakes.''

During one stretch, Stafford completed 17-of-20 passes, not including a 17-yarder that was wiped out by a Monroe penalty. He finished the first half by completing 4-of-5 passes, and then he completed his first seven passes of the second half. He completed 13 of his first 15 passes in the second half, including both touchdowns, but threw his second interception of the night with 3:50 left in the game. His first interception was in the end zone and ended a dramatic drive with 1:08 left in the first half.

Paul Davis scored on three TD runs and Donald Thomas threw an 11-yard TD to Reese Wooten for Cairo, which led the entire game.

Monroe had a nightmarish first half as penalties and turnovers hurt the Tornadoes, who turned the ball over on their first drive of the night and watched Cairo drive 40 yards and score on Thomas’ TD pass.

Cairo scored with 2:13 left in the half on a Davis’ 2-yard run that capped off a 69-yard drive that was aided by Monroe penalties. The Tornadoes would have stopped the Syrupmakers in Cairo territory, but two key penalties — a face mask and an offside — kept the drive alive, and Cairo took advantage to build a 14-0 halftime lead.

Monroe coach Charles Truitt was furious during the drive and expressed his anger and frustration to the officials, who flagged Monroe for 85 yards worth of penalties in the first half.

Truitt admitted he hadn't been that mad: "In a long time,'' he said. He didn't publicly criticize the officiating, and said his team just needed to play better.

"That long drive in the second quarter ate us up,'' he said. "We just couldn't get the defense off the football field.''

Truitt praised his kids, and Stafford.

"The main thing is the kids played well. They didn't quit. They just kept fighting. We came back in the second half,'' he said. "We just can't spot them points

"Charles just got in a zone,'' he said of Stafford's 17-of-20 stretch. "He was reading their defense and throwing the passes he needed to throw.''

It might have been a different game if Monroe could have closed the score to 14-7 at halftime. After Cairo scored on the long drive, Stafford took over with 2:03 left in the half.

He drove the Tornadoes from their 35 to the Cairo 22 by completing four passes in a row, but his 17-yard pass to Devonntavis Campbell to the 22 was wiped out by a late flag. Monroe was flagged for a late block in the back.

Stafford came right back and hit Williams with a 22-yarder, but he threw an interception in the end zone with 1:08 left in the half to end the drive.

Stafford completed his first seven passes of the second half and closed the gap to 14-7 with 6:01 left in the third with his TD pass to Williams. But Davis answered with a 6-yard run, and then broke free for a 56-yard TD run with 9:47 left in the game to lift Cairo to a 28-7 lead. Monroe stormed back and scored on Stafford's 20-yard TD pass to Davis, and then Stafford scored on a short run with 1:22 left. But Cairo recovered the onside kick to seal the victory.

"We'll be back,'' said Herald Dynamite Dozen linebacker Anthony Smith, who had a big game in defeat. "We will see Cairo again in the playoffs. The difference was we made too many mistakes, and they capitalized on them. They're a good team, and we knew we couldn't make mistakes. We have to make the plays when they need to be made.''

Truitt said his kids would be back.

"We'll definitely rebound from this,'' he said. "It means we have to play on the road in the playoffs, but we're a good road team. These kids will come back from this.''