Monroe's Charles Stafford, right, throws under pressure from Albany's Ishmael Marshall during the first half of Saturday's city rivalry game at Hugh Mills Stadium. Monroe won, 12-0.
ALBANY — It took Charles Stafford a while, but then he finally said the words everyone at Monroe wanted to hear.
“Monroe is back,’’ said Stafford moments after the Tornadoes beat Albany High, 12-0, in a rain-soaked game at Hugh Mills Stadium on Saturday night.
Stafford was drenched, but smiling.
He knew how big the Region 1-AAAA win was for Monroe, which lost the region opener to Westover a week ago, 17-14. But Monroe got new life Friday when Cairo beat Westover (1-1 in the region), opening the door for the Tornadoes to still win the title.
“We talked about it in the pregame,’’ Stafford said. “And we know if we win the rest of our games (including Cairo) that we can win the region. We have to beat everybody else, but we’re back in it. Monroe is back.’’
Stafford was so happy about the win he didn’t even mind being all but grounded in the second half when a constant downpour wiped out what might have been an exciting conclusion to a game featuring two of the top quarterbacks in the area: Stafford and Albany High’s Emanuel Byrd. Both are Herald Dynamite Dozen QBs.
Stafford threw for 151 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, and then completed his first two passes for 50 yards before the rains hit. At that point, Stafford had completed 10 of 14 passes for 201 yards. He finished the night, completing 11 of 19 for 208 yards.
“He was rolling toward (a 300-yard game). It looked like the kind of night when he might throw for 300 yards,’’ Monroe coach Charles Truitt said. “But the rain really had an affect on the game in the second half. We had to go to our running game. But Charles had a great game, and our defense had its best game of the year.’’
Monroe’s “Green Wall” (that’s what the kids call the defense at Monroe) held Albany High to a total of just 101 yards of total offense: 28 on the ground and only 73 in the air. Byrd was harassed by Monroe all night and was sacked three times.
“I felt like it was my fault we lost the game,’’ said Byrd, who completed 8 of 12 passes in the first half for 62 yards but connected only twice on 11 passes for 11 yards in the second half in the rain. He scrambled for 29 yards on 13 carries and was Albany High’s leading rusher.
“I should have gotten rid of the ball sooner and got it to my receivers and let them do what they can do,’’ Byrd said. “I tip my hat off to Monroe. They played a real good game, but I blame myself for the loss.’’
Albany High is 0-2 in the region race and 1-4 overall after making the move from Class AA to Class AAAA this season, but coach Felton Williams came away looking ahead.
“I’m really proud of my defense,’’ he said. “We were a play or two away from scoring in the first half, and our defense did a real good job. We just have to keep going and get better. We just couldn’t get anything going. And the rain had a whole lot of affect on the game in the second half.’’
Monroe’s defense wanted to make a point.
“Our defense played a wonderful game,’’ Truitt said. “We challenged the defense all week to pitch a shutout and they did. Emanuel is a great quarterback and a great kid. We kept a lot of pressure on him all night.’’
Monroe came into the game carrying that chip on its shoulder after losing to Westover.
“Last week, we felt like we lost the game because of our defense,’’ said senior defensive back Jawaski Randle, one of Monroe’s leaders. “We wanted to come out and have a big game (against Albany High). Our plan was to try to take (Byrd) out of the game and take away (his passing the ball), and we would win the game. We know if we play good defense, that our offense is going to put up points.’’
Monroe’s offense was impressive early.
“Charles was great,’’ Randle said. “He came out with a lot of intensity and got us going. If it wasn’t raining in the second half, he would have scored even more.’’
Stafford got Monroe on the board on Monroe’s first possession with a 23-yard TD pass to Devontavis Campbell, who made a brilliant over-the-shoulder catch in the left corner of the end zone with 8:46 left in the first quarter.
The catch of the night came a little later when Kevin Williams made a leaping acrobatic reception for about 35 yards on a second-and-18 play, but the catch was wiped out by an illegal motion penalty. Monroe had 100 yards of penalties for the night, including 75 in the second half.
Monroe (3-2, 1-1) scored its second TD when Stafford found Willie Jones in the end zone with a 34-yard touchdown pass with 10:54 left in the half. The Tornadoes drove to the Albany 3-yard line late in the second quarter, but Albany High’s defense came up with a huge stop, stuffing three straight running plays before Stafford’s fourth-down pass from the 4-yard line slipped off the fingers of Devontae Young with 38 seconds left in the half.
“I worked harder all week because I knew we needed this game,’’ said Stafford, who threw for 196 yards in the second half last week against Westover and for 151 in the first half Saturday before shutting it down in the rain. “I worked real hard studying their coverage, and I read the coverage all night. I didn’t mind not throwing the ball in the second half. I’m a team player, and that’s what we needed. We needed to run the ball and let the defense win the game.’’
Every team in Region 1-AAAA has a bye week next week before heading for the stretch run beginning Oct. 12. Albany High meets city rival Dougherty in two weeks, and Monroe faces Herald No. 4 Americus-Sumter, which is 2-0 and tied with Cairo for the lead in the region, on the road in a must-win for both teams.
“We really need the bye week,’’ Truitt said. “We want to get everybody rested and heal up some of these injuries. We’ve told the kids that we can win the region, but we have to beat the rest of the teams. We felt like if Cairo could beat Westover, that would open the door for us to get back in the region (title hunt). Now we have to win the rest of them.’’