Monroe football rallies to beat Manassas Park

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Manassas Park tight end Shaun Kolb hauled in his fourth touchdown of the day, and after a muffed mortar kick gave Manassas Park the ball with the lead and just 4:39 to play, William Monroe football appeared to be in dire straits.

That’s when Monroe coach Mark Sanford began sounding the alarm, yelling “We have to have a stop” on a constant loop throughout the drive.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I could’ve just turned the recorder on on that one,” Sanford said.

The Dragons’ defense got backed all the way up to its own five before stiffening. Then Josh Oliver intercepted a fourth down pass attempt on a fade to the corner and gave Monroe new life.

That was the only window the Monroe offense needed with two minutes left as the Dragons raced down field on a series on a mix of runs and passes with a 1-yard Tylek Burley touchdown capping the drive with 42 seconds left. One more defensive stand near midfield later and Monroe had a desperately needed 32-28 victory over the Cougars.

“This is huge with the kind of season we’ve had and the adversity we’ve faced,” Sanford said. “It was a great, great feeling for the kids.”

The night, however, was pure Jekyll and Hyde from Monroe.

An offense that looked unsure and unconfident in the first half turned into a veritable machine after the break, particularly in the fourth quarter where the unit exploded for 24 points in the frame.

A defense that was getting gashed up the middle for big gains by a previously stagnant Manassas Park offense (8.5 points per game on the year) was suddenly an attacking force that could make clutch plays when the Dragons had to have them.

With that, a two-touchdown deficit became a hard-fought victory for the Dragons that put them back in the 3A East playoff picture.

The Dragons were down 14-0 at halftime and had produced little to nothing on offense with turnovers and stalled drives giving Manassas the chance to control the ball, pound it out and shorten the game with a roster banged up and depleted by injuries.

Monroe struggled to guard Kolb throughout as the Manassas Park pass-catcher had five catches for 187 yards and four touchdowns on the night. But the offense woke up coming out of the half, allowing the Dragons to get back into the contest.

“Halftime was just everybody recognizing how big this was, that it was senior night and that we were playing for our seniors,” said lineman Mark Williamson.

Tylek Burley’s power-based approach on the run and some timely sprints up the middle by Cody Perkins as well helped Monroe get the ball moving. Burley bounced in from 13 yards out midway through the third to pull the Dragons within a touchdown as the offensive line for the Dragons started to assert itself.

“It’s all up the line,” Burley said. “My running style doesn’t matter if they don’t block (and it was) a big change in the second half. Everyone toughened up.”

The fourth quarter turned electric quickly, with Austin Batten taking a 6-yard pass from Tyler Trevillian in for a score. The two-point conversion from Trevillian to Satchel Knight gave the Dragons a 16-14 lead. No one underwent quite the transformation that Trevillian did from the first half to the second half. The junior went from shaky to pinpoint, and threw for both his touchdowns and nearly all of his 123 yards in the second half.

“Tyler was having a tough time, he didn’t look comfortable,” Sanford said. “In the second half he was throwing darts, he accepted the challenge.”

Manassas answered Batten’s first touchdown with one of Kolb’s four, this time from 60 yards out. But Batten returned the favor with a 35-yard catch and run that put the Dragons back out ahead. That’s when Kolb scored and the muffed mortar put Monroe’s defense against the wall before Josh Oliver’s interception set the stage for a comeback. Before Oliver’s pick though, Monroe’s front seven turned a first down and goal at the seven into the fourth and goal at the six where Oliver made his interception.

“(Manassas Park’s quarterback) never had a chance to set his feet,” Sanford said. “I was very proud of that defensive line.”

Williamson, Blake Morris and linebacker Josh King were all three a big part of that effort down the stretch.

Burley finished with 156 yards and along with Perkins led a resurgent rushing attack after halftime, with Perkins going for 114 yards. Batten’s four catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns paced the air attack.

James Duvall’s 115 yards on 24 carries gave the Cougars some punch on the ground.

Monroe wraps up the regular season next week against Clarke. With other schools threatening their recently earned playoff spot, the Dragons will likely need a win on the road to make the playoffs.