Monroe's Devontay Stephens, left, is dragged down by Westover's Julian Colwell during Saturday night's city rivalry showdown at Hugh Mills Stadium. Westover won, 17-14. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — Westover lost four games last year by a handful of points because the Patriots didn’t have a kicker.
They’ve got one now.
Tanner Stumpe kicked a 43-yard field goal with 3:19 left Saturday night that proved to be the difference as Westover hung on to beat city rival Monroe, 17-14, shocking the Tornadoes, who were the top-ranked team in The Herald’s Fab 5 Poll and ranked No. 10 in the Class AAAA state poll.
“It’s a big win for us, and a confidence builder. We needed this win to reach our goal of winning a region title,’’ said Westover coach Octavia Jones who curiously would not allow Stumpe or any of his players to talk to the media after the game. Jones said he has a new policy of not allowing his players to speak to the media.
“I want them focused on Cairo next week,’’ Jones said. “I will do all the talking.’’
Westover was focused in the first half, jumping out to a 14-0 lead, but the Patriots needed every point and Stumpe’s big field goal to win the Region 1-AAAA opener in front of a large crowd at Hugh Mills.
Monroe, which couldn’t do anything right in the first half, stormed back and was driving in the final minutes to win the game when a huge play by Westover’s Denevious Harris and a bigger penalty killed Monroe’s momentum.
Harris was about to sack Monroe QB Charles Stafford, who threw the ball out of bounds. There wasn’t a receiver in the area and the Tornadoes got hit with an intentional grounding, 15-yard penalty from the spot of the sack and a loss of down. Instead of facing a second and 10 at the Westover 38, they were backed up to the Monroe 38. Stafford hit two quick passes and got Monroe back to the Westover 40, but on fourth and 12, Julian Colwell broke up Stafford’s final pass to seal it for Westover, which had lost its previous two games after leading at halftime.
“We stressed to them all week that we needed to play four quarters of football,’’ Jones said. “We’ve been playing great in the first half. We needed to play four quarters.
It came down to the final seconds and Harris’ play of the game.
“That (intentional grounding) penalty killed us. We would have had a chance to win,’’ Monroe coach Charles Truitt said. “We came out sluggish in the first half and put ourselves in a hole. I didn’t expect that to happen, but it did.’’
Stafford completed only three passes for 54 yards in the first half, but he had six dropped balls that might have changed the first half and ultimately the game.
“We had a lot of drops,’’ Truitt said. “We didn’t match their intensity at the beginning of the game. We just have to come back from this.’’
They almost came back Saturday.
Stafford, a Herald Dynamite Dozen selection, completed 11-of-19 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown — and that was just in the second half.
Monroe drove 67 yards to open the second half and closed to 14-7 on Devontay Stephens’ 7-yard TD run. Then Monroe drove to the Westover 12 and appeared ready to knot the score when a big penalty backed up Monroe to the 17, where Westover held and took over on downs.
It stayed 14-7 until Stumpe made his big kick, but Stafford answered with a 63-catch-and-run TD to Kemetric Parks to close to 17-14 with 3:00 left. Monroe (2-2, 0-1 in region) held Westover on a three-and-out, and Stafford completed four passes in a row to drive to the 38.
But Harris’ play and Colwell’s knock-down saved it for Westover (2-2 and 1-0 in the region). Harris wasn’t even supposed to be playing on defense. He is a starting offensive lineman who lost his starting job and then made the most of his chance when he got into the game on defense..
“I’m extremely proud of him,’’ Jones said. “He lost his starting position this week in practice, but he came out fighting on defense. Our defense stood up and stopped their big-time players.’’
Westover stopped everything Monroe tried to do early, picking off three interceptions and recovering a fumble. Dalviness Greene scored on a 27-yard run following an interception with 9:48 left in the first and T.J. Cromer connected with John Wakefield for a 10-yard TD pass with 24 seconds left in the first half.
“We’ll bounce back,’’ said Monroe linebacker Anthony Smith, a Dynamite Dozen selection who had a monster game for the Tornadoes in the loss. Smith suffered an injury in the first half but came back to play a big part of Monroe’s defense that shut down Westover in the second half.
“We played the worst first half we’ve ever played’’ Smith said. “We didn’t execute. But you have to tip your cap to Westover. They played a great game. We will come back from this loss. It’s all about reaching the playoffs, and we will come back and get to the playoffs.”