Monroe quarterback and Herald Dynamite Dozen selection Charles Stafford fires a pass downfield during Saturday night’s game at Hugh Mills Stadium. Stafford was 13-of-24 for 164 yards, and the Tornadoes held on to beat Fitzgerald in overtime, 35-28. Herald No. 1 Monroe is now 2-1 heading into Region 1-AAAA play next week.
ALBANY — In the end, Fitzgerald had no place to go.
Out of room, out of breath and out of bounds.
And out of luck against a Monroe team that had this one won, then had to come back and win it again in overtime, 35-28, when the Tornadoes stopped Fitzgerald on a fourth-and-four play in OT about a yard short of a first down.
“We just had to make a play. We had to do it,’’ said Devontay Stephens, a Monroe cornerback who forced Fitzgerald QB Romarius Gaulden out of bounds on the final play of the game.
Even when it ended, Monroe had to wait — it took an eternity for the measurement.
“I prayed,’’ Stephens. “I just started praying that he was short of the first down.’’
He wasn’t alone.
“I was praying, too,’’ Monroe coach Charles Truitt said. “It seemed like we were a play away from stopping them all night and then we made THE play.’’
When the officials signaled the ball was short, Monroe’s players went crazy, leaping and dancing onto the field.
And one player ran off of it.
“They called the captains to come over for the measurement,’’ said Monroe linebacker and Herald Dynamite Dozen player Anthony Smith.
“When he said it was short, I just sprinted off the field. I wasn’t going to wait for a second verdict.’’
Truitt and the rest of Monroe’s team went for the sky.
“I had my hands up and I jumped up,’’ said Truitt, whose team lost to Brooks County, 21-18 on opening night on a Hail Mary. “It felt so good to be on the other end of a game like this after we lost that game to Brooks.’’
The Tornadoes thought they had that game won when they stopped Brooks twice on downs, only to watch the drive stay alive with late personal foul calls. The same thing almost happened Saturday. Monroe led 28-21 late in the fourth quarter and stopped Fitzgerald at the Monroe 36 on downs with 2:38 left to all but end the game.
But a late flag was thrown on Monroe for a personal foul to keep the drive alive, and Gaulden later scored on a 4-yard run run to knot the score at 28-28 with 1:49 left.
But Monroe (2-1) took over in overtime. Stephens, playing his first game at running back, bolted eight yards on the first play in OT to the 2-yard line, and Brenton Truitt pounded his way in for a 1-yard TD. Sophomore Devontae Young, who just won the kicking job this week, nailed the PAT.
“When we went into overtime I felt like we were going to win the game,’’ said Brenton Truiit, the coach’s son. “I was hoping I would get the ball and get a chance to win it.’’
Fitzgerald (2-1) came back all night, and almost came back one last time.
“We knew they were going to go to their best player on that last play. We knew the quarterback was going to get it,’’ Smith said. “We called a blitz and me and (Stephens) were coming. He (Stephens) made the play of the game.’’
Smith was all over the field. He made more than 10 tackles, including five for losses and a sack to lead Monroe’s defense.
“We call it the Green Wall,’’ said Stephens. “That’s what we call our defense.’’
Monroe’s offense set the tone early against Fitzgerald, the No. 3-ranked team in the Class AA state poll, and Monroe’s Green Wall forced three fumbles.
“Turnovers killed us,’’ Fitzgerald coach Jason Strickland said. “That’s a real good team. We thought they were good all week (leading up to the game) and they are. No question (that’s the best team we have played this year).’’
Monroe scored on the first play from scrimmage when Herald Dynamite Dozen quarterback Charles Stafford hit Kevin Williams with a 58-yard TD pass. Stafford scored on a 1-yard run to open the second quarter and threw a two-point conversion pass to give Monroe a 14-0 lead. Stephens made it 21-0 when he scored on a 8-yard run with 5:13 left in the half.
Fitzgerald scored on a Larry Stewart 3-yard run with 1:55 left in the half when Stewart pushed his way into the end zone on a fourth-and-goal play, and The Purple Hurricanes scored late in the third quarter when Gaulden ran eight yards for a TD with 2:33 left.
Stafford scored on a 2-yard run with 37 seconds left in the third to make it a 28-14 game but Gaulden threw a 21-yard TD pass to Travis Bogans with 8:59 left in the game, and then scored on the controversial drive to tie it at 28. Gaulden rushed for 100 yards on 13 carries and completed 4-of-5 passes for 74 yards to lead Fitzgerald.
But Monroe bounced back and then bounced Gaulden out of bounds when it counted most.
“I told the kids in the huddle after the game that this shows what type of character they have,’’ Truitt said. “The thing I am proud of is the way they just kept fighting. We knew Fitzgerald had a great team. We knew they had a great offense and would score some points. But our defense stepped up in the end.
“I’m really proud of (Stephens). He had a great game running the ball and playing defense,’’ he said. “And our offense played well.’’
Stafford completed 13-of-24 for 164 yards and a touchdown and also ran for two touchdowns, and Kevin Williams had four receptions for 107 yards and a TD. Stephens gained 74 yards on 14 carries and scored a TD and set up the TD in overtime in his debut as a running back. Monroe tailback Daryl Brown was out with an injury, but Stephens stepped in and had a memorable night.
So did Monroe.
“This is big. This is bigtime,’’ Smith said. “It’s a big win going into region next week against Westover. We’re on a high right now, but we will come down when we hit practice. We’ve got to get ready for Westover.’’
That game — the biggest rivalry game in Albany — is Saturday at 7 p.m. at Hugh Mills.