Monroe quarterback Charles Stafford eludes the Americus-Sumter pass rush during the first half of Thursday’s Region 1-AAAA game at Hugh Mills Stadium. Stafford, the reigning Herald Player of the Year, led the Tornadoes to their third straight win. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — It was the break Monroe was looking for.
It was the game Monroe had been looking for.
In a season that hasn’t gone according to plans, the Tornadoes played perhaps their best game of the season, routing Americus-Sumter 34-10 Thursday night at Hugh Mills Stadium.
It was the game Monroe coach Charles Truitt had been looking for — a complete game on offense, defense and especially on special teams.
“Like I said earlier this week … it seemed like one week our offense would play good, then our defense would play good the next game. It never seemed to be together,” Truitt said. “We challenged our kids (Thursday) to put together a complete game. When we put everything together like this, we’re a tough team.”
The Tornadoes (4-3, 3-1 Region 1-AAAA) won their third straight and remained in the thick of the region postseason chase, letting the rest of the region know Monroe is not out of the postseason chatter.
Quarterback Charles Stafford, a Dynamite Dozen selection and the reigning Herald Player of the Year, lived up to his preseason hype, throwing for 247 yards on 20-of-29. He rushed for three scores and threw another to Deonte Young on a perfectly executed pass to make it 14-3 with 18 seconds left in the first half. Stafford finished with 326 all-purpose yards.
“I just found out I had that many yards,” Stafford said surprisingly after the game. He also rushed for 79 yards.
“It’s a big, big win for us. All I wanted to do was win.”
Stafford’s performance may draw the headlines, but it was defense and special teams that stole the show. Early in the third quarter after the Herald No. 4 Panthers (3-3, 2-1) forced Monroe to punt, the Tornadoes forced a fumble on the punt return. Antonio Leroy recovered the loose ball, giving Monroe a first down at the Americus-Sumter 30-yard line.
Three plays later, Stafford skirted up the middle on a 12-yard touchdown gallop, then booted the extra point for a 21-3 lead.
Then it was the defense’s turn. On Americus-Sumter’s ensuing possession, Cornelius Jenkins scooped up a Panther fumble and rumbled 64 yards for a touchdown to make it 28-3.
Monroe’s defense and special teams combined for three turnovers, using an interception to halt one Americus-Sumter drive, then turning a fumble into a score as well as the special teams recovering a fumble to cut down what little momentum the Panthers had built to start the third quarter.
The final outcome hardly resembled the way it started. Americus-Sumter marched deep into Monroe territory on its opening drive, using a 30-yard field goal from Dylan Morgan to take an early 3-0 lead.
But Monroe scored 28 unanswered points to take an insurmountable lead.
“We went into the game knowing that we needed to stop Americus-Sumter’s Jonathan Thomas and Wesley Fields,” Truitt said. “I tip my hat to this team (Thursday night). Offensively, defensively and special teams, they stood the test.”
So dominant was Monroe’s offense it only punted once in the game — which came with less than two minutes left. The Tornadoes corraled Thomas and Fields, who are both Dynamite Dozen selections. The pair managed just 123 yards combined on the ground.
Thomas scored on a 1-yard rushing touchdown late in the third quarter and finished with 85 yards passing.