ALBANY — It took a Hail Mary pass with seven seconds left in the game to break Monroe’s heart and beat The Herald’s top-ranked team in the season opener Friday night.
“It was heartbreaking,’’ said Monroe coach Charles Truitt, who watched his team lead most of the night before losing, 21-18, to Brooks County, which completed a 40-yard TD pass with seven seconds left to pull off the victory.
“We had guys in position to make the play, and we went right down to the end before losing it,’’ Truitt said.
Monroe had stopped Brooks twice on fourth-down plays during the final drive only to see the drives stay alive because of two personal foul penalties that Monroe fans felt were questionable.
Truitt wouldn’t comment on the personal foul penalties, but he did say penalties killed his team.
“We gave them 40 yards on the last drive with four penalties, two personal fouls and two offsides penalties,’’ Truitt said. “We thought we had stopped them on fourth down and had the ball with 20 seconds left in the game, and they called a personal foul for unnecessary roughness on my cornerback for jamming a guy who went out of bounds. We stopped them at their 30 on a fourth-down play when we sacked their quarterback, but a personal foul penalty on a face-mask call kept the drive alive. Those critical penalties killed us.’’
Monroe led most of the night, taking a 6-3 lead midway in the first quarter when Herald Dynamite Dozen quarterback Charles Stafford connected with Kevin Williams for a 45-yard TD, and Monroe took that lead into halftime.
After a Brooks County field goal, Monroe took a 12-6 lead when Stafford hit Darryl Brown with a 32-yard TD, but Brooks took a 13-12 lead early in the fourth quarter. Williams returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown and Monroe, which missed its first two extra point kicks went for two. Stafford hit Dontavious Campbell for the two-pointer, but the play was wiped out with a penalty, and Monroe failed to get the two points back on the next play, hanging to an 18-13 lead with about 10 minutes left in the game.
“I told the (players) after the game that the main things is we need to put games away. We need to finish,’’ Truitt said. “We had our chances to blow them out and we didn’t do it. We’ve got to play better and we’ve got to cut down on our penalties.’’
Last year in the playoffs, Monroe lost to state-ranked Gainesville, 16-13, in the second round when the Tornadoes had the ball at the end of the game.
“We’ve been on both ends (of the Hail Mary play) in the last two games. We needed the Hail Mary last year and didn’t get it, and lost to Brooks because they got it.’’
Stafford finished the night completing 19-of-35 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Williams made seven receptions for 92 yards and a TD and also had the 96-yard kickoff return.
“We just have to come back next week and correct our mistakes,’’ Truitt said of their next game at Wilcox County on Friday. “You can’t take anything away from Brooks, but it’s a game we definitely should have won.’’
BIZARRE CALLS: Dougherty is on its way back, but the Trojans had to try to overcome a couple of bizarre calls in their 49-32 loss to Lee County on Friday night. Not bad calls, just out-of-the ordinary calls.
The first one was a big momentum-changer. Dougherty trailed, 7-6, as the first quarter ended after a third down play with Dougherty driving at the Lee County 27. The two teams marched to the other end of the field to start the second quarter, but the chain gang inadvertently marked the first down a little short. Instead of marking the first down at the 20, the marker was set at the 22. Dougherty QB Mike Whatley completed a 6-yard pass on fourth down to the 21, and the officials signaled first down.
Then the officials realized the chain gang had mis-marked the first down marker, and ruled that Dougherty was short and gave the ball to Lee County on downs.
Dougherty coach Corey Joyner argued that the down be replayed.
“I make my (play calls) based on the yard marker,’’ Joyner said, making his case that if he had known he needed to get to the 20 he would have called a pass play that would have gotten his team to the 20.
It wasn’t Joyner’s fault. It wasn’t Dougherty’s fault or Lee County’s fault. But the officials refused to replay the down with the markers set correctly.
The next one came later in the first half. On a Dougherty kickoff, the ball skipped off the Lee County returner’s hands and bounced back to inside the Lee County 15-yard line. Dougherty was charging the ball and Lee was trying to regroup when an official blew his whistle, ruling the play dead.
The official then explained he had blown an inadvertent whistle and that Dougherty would have to kick off again. This time Kenneth Hurley returned the ball to the 50 to set up a short scoring drive for Lee.
“The referees apologized to me at halftime,’’ Joyner said. “I just felt so bad for the kids.’’
LEE’S TWO-HEADED QB: Lee County not only opened the season with a win against Dougherty Friday night, but it did it with two quarterbacks.
Lee coach Dean Fabrizio said during the August workouts that he didn’t have one set quarterback and might go with two this season.
Fabrizio alternated quarterbacks on each series, and it worked as Lee County put up 49 points, including 42 in the first half.
Senior Matt Mears completed 4-of-8 passes for 41 yards and junior quarterback Stephen Collier completed 5-of-6 passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns. Collier also rushed for 47 yards on three carries and scored on a 23-yard TD run.
“We are going to stay with the two quarterbacks,’’ Fabrizio said afterwards. “With two guys it enables us to add a different phase to our offense we didn’t have before. We can run the ball with our quarterback now. When you have just one quarterback, it’s hard to run with him because he might get hurt, but with two we can run the ball.’’
He was happy with both kids.
“Both of them did some good things, and we’re definitely excited about having two quarterbacks who can play. We’re able to open up our offense,” the coach said.
Receiver Andrew Stroud had a big game for Lee, catching three passes for 50 yards, but Fabrizio was more impressed with Stroud’s all-around game.
“He made some good catches,’’ Fabrizio said. “But he was really dominant as a blocker.’’
It showed in Lee’s running game as Hurley gained 200 yards on 14 carries and rushed for three TDs.
SHERWOOD’S AWAKENING: Sherwood coach Otis Convington knew how his team would be able to jumpstart its season.
And he knew exactly who would lead the charge.
“I told free safety Nick Wendland that he would have a chance to make an impact (Friday against Tiftarea),” Covington said. “I told him that if he got two interceptions, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Wendland did just that Friday, picking off two passes and leading the Eagles to a 39-25 victory against Tiftarea.
Sherwood (1-1) began the season with a shutout loss a week ago against Trinity and was even blanked in their final preseason scrimmage against Crisp Academy. Covington poured over the game film from those contests and knew what the difference maker would be for his team to get into the end zone Friday: turnovers.
“I thought that if we took care of the ball, then we could be pretty competitive,” said Covington, whose Eagles turned the ball over four times in their loss to Trinity. “If we didn’t turn it over or make any mistakes, we could really do something with it.”
Not only did the Eagles take care of the ball Friday against Tiftarea, but they created four turnovers of their own, including an interception from Travis Acord.
But no one was more instrumental in that turnover battle than Wendland.
“We knew Tiftarea was going to throw the ball more than anybody else we had played,” Covington said. “He was pretty pumped up going (into the game). After the game, we kind of had a laugh about it. I said, ‘I told you my prediction would come true.’ He was excited.”
So were the rest of the Eagles, who will look to continue their momentum Friday at home against Randolph Southern.
OFF AND RUNNING: Calhoun County’s 2012 season hit the ground running Friday night against Berrien.
The Cougars, who have huge expectations this season with their biggest roster in years, rushed for 418 yards and five TDs in their 36-26 season-opening win.
“I was happy with the results of how well we ran the ball,” Calhoun County coach John Williams said. “I told them to just keep plugging and take what teams are giving us.”
On Friday, the Cougars were taking whatever they wanted in the running game.
Senior Marquil Middleton led Calhoun with 204 yards on 21 carries and got into the end zone three times with scores of 28, 18 and 45 yards.
Sherrod Williams, who finished with 123 yards on 13 carries, scored the Cougars’ other two TDs on rushes of 47 and 12 yards. Fullback Cortez Brown added 34 yards on nine carries, and quarterback DaJohn Williams rushed four times for 33 yards.
“Middleton was able to cut back against the grain, and DaJohn was able to read the option really well,” John Williams said.
Calhoun’s running backs also made some noise on defense.
Middleton pushed his way through the line on a crucial fourth down late in the game and tackled Berrien’s running back to force a turnover on downs, Ryan Shorter picked up a fumble caused by DaJohn Williams on the final possession and Brown recovered a Berrien fumble on a kickoff.
Calhoun, which is 1-0 for the first time since 2007, is in action again at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Lanier County.
STATE IS PUT ON HURRICANE LADONIS WATCH: Ladonis Bryant is a mismatch waiting to happen. The Early County senior lined up in the backfield on the wing most of the night Friday in the Bobcats’ 55-20 win against Seminole County. Twice he got single coverage on pass routes, created separation and got behind a defender then put it on cruise control with two 60-plus yard touchdown catches, while adding a 69-yard run. Bryant caught another inside shuttle pass for one yard and had a 1-yard touchdown run and still averaged 39.4 yards per touch.
Just imagine what he could have done with more targets.
“You get him in open field, he’s pretty good,” Early County head coach Trey Woolf said of Bryant, who finished the night with 209 all-purpose yards.
The Bobcats (1-0) dominated Seminole County up front as the Indians were breaking in an entirely new offensive line. It showed with 13 tackles for loss by Early County linebacker Brakari Isom and company.
“Our whole offensive line is very young and never played a varsity game,” Seminole head coach Alan Ingram said. “They got indoctrinated (Friday).”
Albany Herald high school beat writer Mike Phillips, along with staff sports writers John Millikan and Matt Stewart, contributed to this report