Monroe’s Jawaski Randle runs away from the Americus-Sumter defense during a 70-yard punt return during Friday’s region duel. (Scot Phillips/Americus Times-Recorder)
AMERICUS — Looks like Monroe needed this one.
Just listen to Tornado receiver Donvanntavis Campbell.
“We needed it,’’ he said during Monroe’s celebration on the field after a 27-13 win against Americus-Sumter on Friday night that kept Monroe’s hopes alive for a Region 1-AAAA title. “We needed it bad, real bad. We needed it so bad ...”
“We needed it like one-in-a-million bad,’’ Campbell added.
Not a bad metaphor. After all, Campbell made a one-in-a-million touchdown catch in the fourth quarter that lifted Monroe to a 27-7 lead with 11:19 left in the game.
There’s plenty left in Monroe‘s season now, because the Nadas can win a piece of the title or all of it if they win their final four games, including a huge showdown with Cairo on Nov. 2 at Hugh Mills Stadium. Cairo is still unbeaten, but Americus is now 2-1, and so is Westover, which beat Monroe in the region opener three weeks ago.
But the Tornadoes are back in business after stopping Americus (4-2, 2-1), which is ranked No. 3 in The Herald Fab 5 poll but will likely drop after this one.
As for Monroe? The Herald’s former No. 1 team is back in.
Monroe will be back in the Fab 5 next week after stopping the Panthers, who had scored 107 points during a three-game winning streak that was snapped Friday night. Monroe is now 4-2 and an all-important 2-1 in the region race.
The Tornadoes have a chance now. They have to run the table, but at least there is a tablet to run.
“The table is set,” said safety Jawaski Randle, who had a huge game on defense and also ran back a punt for a 70-yard TD. “We don’t need any help from anyone to win the region. We have to win out, but it’s up to us.
“Now the pressure is off us, because we don’t need any help from anyone.”
Randle and the rest of the kids said they wanted to win it for their coach Charles Truitt, who grew up and played football at Americus and was once an assistant coach there.
“It’s a great win. We had to get it,’’ said Truitt, who was soaked with a Gatorade shower afterward. We had to win it to insure our chance of winning a region title. The defense played great, and we had an all-around good game.’’
Herald Dynamite Dozen quarterback Charles Stafford completed 11 of 17 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns — and could have had more. But after building a 21-7 lead at halftime, Monroe went to the ground to control the game and the clock. Daryl Brown, who missed three games earlier with an ankle injury, gained 97 yards on 19 carries to lead the way.
Once again Kevin Williams, arguably the best receiver in Southwest Georgia, came up big for Monroe with four three receptions for 183 yards and two touchdowns.
Stafford and Williams — the Montana & Rice combo of Southwest Georgia — hooked up twice for touchdowns in the first half. Williams, who had his man beat deep, snatched a tipped pass and never slowed down on a 56-yard TD with 4:49 left in the first quarter to get Monroe started, and he finished the half with a pretty 21-yard catch in the end zone as he spun backward and landed on his back with a 21-7 lead for the Tornadoes.
“I felt it. I never did see it,” Williams said of his tip-and-go TD. “We were pumped up from the beginning to win this game. Our coach had never beaten them here, and we wanted to win it for him.”
It showed as Monroe dominated the first half.
“The difference was they came out and played mistake-free football in the first half and we didn’t,’’ said Americus-Sumter coach Chris Wade, who took over the team after Michael Pollock was fired Wednesday. Wade had been running the Panthers for a month and is 4-1 as their coach.
“We kicked ourselves in the foot with the punt and they just played real sound football in the first half,’’ he added. “But we’re not done. We‘ll be back.’’
Wade and Americus knew that Williams has run two kicks back for touchdowns this season, and the Panthers’ special teams kept the ball away form him all night on punts. But one of those backfired. Williams, who was the short man on punts, snatched the short kick at the 30 and sprinted 70 yards to lift Monroe to a 14-0 lead with 9:46 left in the half.
Americus came back and got on the board when Benton ran for a 23-yard TD with 3:19 left in the half, but Stafford took over at his 41 and drove Monroe 59 yards in four plays, completing a 21-yard pass to Daryl Brown to start the drive and running for 18 yards on the second play from scrimmage. Brown picked up four more to the 16, before a penalty pushed Monroe back to the 21. That’s where Stafford sent a beauty to Williams, who split two defenders in the left side of the end zone
Stafford finished the half, hitting 7-of-9 for 120 yards, and Williams had two receptions for 77 yards, but his best catch of the night never showed up. He made a leaping catch for a 35-yard midway through the second quarter, wrestling the ball away from a defender, but the play was wiped out by a 15-yard penalty — a 50-yard loss for Monroe.
Monroe’s defense made a huge stop late in the third quarter after Benson sparked a drive that was kept alive when he scrambled for a 29-yard gain on a second-and-15 play from his own 25 to the Monroe 46, and a late hit out-of-bounds put the ball at the 35. The Panthers drove to the Monroe 7, but on third and goal, Antonio Leroy stopped Benton for no gain. Then Monroe came up with a bigger play when Cortez Banks blocked Dylan Morgan’s 23-yard field goal attempt to keep it a 21-7 game.
“I knew I was going to block it,’’ Banks said. “I told (linebacker) Anthony Smith I was going to block it. They weren’t paying any attention to me. and I shot right through there.’’
That must have inspired Monroe’s offense, which drove 80 yards — mostly on Browns' legs and back. Campbell, a high-flying sophomore, came up with the highlight play of the night, leaping between two defenders to make a spectacular catch for a 22-yard TD that lifted the Tornadoes to a 27-7 lead with 11:19 left in the game.
Banks also had two of Monroe's six sacks for the night as the Green Wall defense came up with one big play after another. Americus scored 83 points in the first two region games, but the Panthers only saw the end zone twice Friday.
Wesley Fields, who rushed for 101 yards on 22 carries, scored on a 1-yard run with 4:35 left to close to 27-13, but the night and the moment belonged to Monroe.
Now the Nadas hope the rest of the season does, too.