Friday night thriller

Monroe players celebrate after an early touchdown against Crisp County.

Monroe players celebrate after an early touchdown against Crisp County.

ALBANY — It had to be the longest 2:48 of Crisp County coach Lee Campbell’s life.

With Campbell’s Cougars clinging to a three-point lead, Crisp County hoped to sustain a drive and keep the ball away from Monroe quarterback Charles Stafford.

The Cougars couldn’t, giving the ball back to Monroe. Stafford marched the Tornadoes 77 yards on nine plays for the game-winning score and Monroe squeaked out a 24-21 victory over the stubborn Cougars Friday night at Hugh Mills Stadium.

Stafford hit wide receiver Emmanuel Davis on a 5-yard slant pass with 51 seconds left, setting a battle for second-place at Cairo next Friday.

“This is where we want to be,” Monroe coach Charles Truitt said of his team, which has won four straight. “But we’ve got to get better.”

The Tornadoes (5-3, 4-1 Region 1-AAAA) overcame an interception and a fumble to win the game as well as 13 penalties for 90 yards.

It didn’t come without some nail-biting moments in the closing seconds. Crisp (4-4, 2-3) moved to the Tornado 13-yard line with 4 seconds left. Campbell launched a pass in the back corner of the endzone for tight end Landon Whitman, who hauled in the pass in double coverage but game officials ruled he was out of bounds.

“We were going all verticals and we were happy with the one-on-one coverage in the back of the endzone,” Lee Campbell said. “I told Witt to look that way, but he got flushed. It’s a game of inches. Landon made a heckuva catch.”

Stafford led the Tornadoes to two fourth-quarter scores, including the game-winner. He also tossed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Tedo McGowan with 6:40 left, pulling Monroe to within 21-18.

However, his heroics failed in comparison to Crisp’s domination for the first three quarters. Crisp didn’t do anything flashy. They used their ground game to set up their passing attack and it became the Campbell to Whitman show.

Whitman, known more for his baseball pitching skills after he helped the Cougars to a deep run through the postseason this spring, showed he can be a pretty good football player too.

Campbell tossed an 11-yard touchdown strike in the second quarter to a streaking Whitman in the back of the endzone. Then, Crisp seemed to put the game away with the same combination - Campbell to Whitman. On fourth-and-goal from the 8, Campbell fired a short strike to Whitman to give the Cougars a nine-point cushion with 8:40 left.

That was before Stafford and Monroe came charging back.

“The kids always had that fight in them tonight,” Truitt said. “They certainly didn’t go down without a fight. Crisp County is a very good football team. Fans definitely got their money’s worth tonight.”

Campbell finished with 160 yards passing on 14-of-24. Five of those went to Whitman, who finished with 82 yards receiving and two scores.

For Monroe, it may have been a case of Stafford trying to do too much earlier in the game. Late in the second quarter with Monroe facing a third-and-goal from the 9, Stafford’s pass into the endzone was intercepted by Crisp’s Elijah Lee.

Then in the third with Monroe threatening to take the lead, Stafford fumbled at the Cougar 30 after picking up a first down. Crisp recovered, then drove 70 yards in eight plays for Campbell to hit Whitman for the second of two scores.

Stafford finished with 293 yards passing on 27-of-43-1. Daryl Brown finished with 144 yards on 13 catches for the Tornadoes, helping Monroe roll up 379 yards of total offense.

Crisp County jumped ahead when Jarkevious Glover caught a swing pass from Campbell, ran over a Monroe tackler and dashed down the left sideline for a 30-yard touchdown run with 4:28 left in the first quarter and an early 7-0 lead.

But Monroe answered in the second quarter, marching 82 yards on 11 plays when Devontay Stephens scored on a 20-yard scamper. However, the extra point failed and Monroe trailed 7-6.