When William Monroe opened a two-touchdown lead with 1:12 left in the third quarter, they seemed to be cruising toward the program’s first-ever victory over Monticello. But turnovers and short fields gave the Mustangs chances, and the home team stormed back with four unanswered touchdowns to claim a 42-28 win.
“Our guys were able to shake off some adversity and play for that next play, play for each other, and that’s why we were able to come out on the right side of this tonight,” said Monticello coach Matt Hicks.
Hicks and staff will have plenty of tape to dissect with their young squad. It’s not often you win by two scores after tallying 168 yards of offense and just eight and a half minutes of possession time.
“It was frustrating a little bit, but we cleared our minds and just had fun out there,” said sophomore defensive lineman Cyrus Smith, who had two huge fourth-quarter fumble recoveries in his first varsity start.
After the Mustangs made it all square at 28-28 midway through the fourth, cramps and fumbles abounded on a still-hot and humid night. Monroe’s offense turned it over on the second snap of its ensuing possession, but Monticello fumbled it back three plays later. The Dragons managed to escape the shadow of their own goal line as senior workhorse Jackson Wood dashed 17 yards on third-and-10, but he fumbled on the next play after catching a four-yard pass and turning upfield. Smith was in the right spot to collect the loose ball.
“I saw ball and grabbed that bad boy and just took off to the endzone,” said Smith, who raced 23 yards before being pushed out at the 1.
“I was hype,” said senior lineman Lisaad Rose. “We got the hit, we got there [to recover], and we got the touchdown the play after. There’s nothing to do but get hype, man.”
Fellow senior lineman Christian Proffitt agreed.
“I ran straight toward the endzone [with Cyrus],” Proffitt said. “That was probably one of the happiest moments of my life, it was insane.”
Hicks then dialed up a wildcat look with junior receiver Tre Early taking the snap and plowing in to put Monticello ahead with 3:47 remaining.
“I knew the offense was going to come out and score, so I had to punch it in for my boys,” said Early.
With Monroe forced to pick up its pace and turn to the air, the Mustangs’ defense came up with back-to-back sacks to set up fourth-and-19. The Dragons turned to senior Luke Windett to launch a deep pass, but linebacker Juelz Christmas-Jackson was back in coverage and made the pick. Junior running back Ezekiel Pour then iced the game with a 17-yard touchdown scamper on the next snap.
Monroe’s offense down the stretch was in stark contrast to the clock-draining ground attack it established from the jump by winning the coin toss and taking the ball. The Dragons spent nearly 10 minutes marching 80 yards in 17 plays, with Wood and fellow senior running back D’markus Prittchet splitting carries and senior quarterback Davien Griffieth slipping out of the pocket to pick up key chunks. After 10 runs to start the drive, head coach Mitchell Morris mixed in some pass plays, and Griffeith tossed to Wood to move the chains on third down. Griffieth posted the season’s first points by rolling left and pulling the ball down to run before spotting senior tight end Edison Castro wide open for an 18-yard touchdown.
Monticello’s offense, with junior Owen Engel making his first start at quarterback, would have to wait a bit longer for its debut, as Early fielded the Dragons’ kickoff and took it 85 yards to the house.
“I just love that my boys know to block for me, like we always practice in practice,” Early said.
The score was tied 7-7, but the MHS defense found itself back on the field again with minimal rest. However, the Dragons were waylaid by back-to-back holding penalties, and an incomplete pass on third-and-long set up Monroe’s only punt of the evening.
Engel and company finally took their first snap from scrimmage 12 seconds into the second quarter. It would be a short-and-sweet debut, with a flanker screen to senior Brandon Herring going 14 yards before Pour took a handoff around the right edge and raced 24 yards for a touchdown. Monticello grabbed a 14-7 lead with 11:18 left in the half.
Monroe got back on track with a 14-play, 75-yard drive that drained nearly nine minutes. Griffieth evened the game 14-14 as he rolled out to his right and strolled in for an 8-yard score on third-and-goal.
Monticello narrowly averted disaster when, after a quick three-and-out on its ensuing possession, the long snap sailed over the punter’s head toward the endzone. Oziel Jara Castillo tracked down the ball and ran out to the 21, cutting the loss to 14 yards. But with Monroe presented a prime opportunity to grab the lead heading into the break, Hicks called timeout to rally a defensive unit that had spent all but a minute and six seconds of the half on the field. After a cross-field toss to Wood for a gain of 13 to set up first-and-goal, the Mustangs held firm. Griffieth rolled right on third-and-goal and pressure off the edge forced his endzone pass just a bit quicker than his target was expecting, and the ball slipped through his arms to the turf. A 29-yard field goal attempt missed low and left, and the score remained tied at the half.
“Our defense did a phenomenal job,” said Hicks. “We came up big there and they didn’t get any points to finish up the half.”
After a turnover-free first half, both sides had issues after the break. Monticello’s opening series ended after four snaps when Engel’s deep pass was intercepted by Jackson Wood in his two-way role in the secondary. However, Wood fumbled it back after a six-yard rush on Monroe’s ensuing offensive play. However, the Mustangs couldn’t capitalize on the field position, incurring three pre-snap penalties before a 4th-and-19 incompletion. With 9:30 remaining in the third, Monticello had only 33 yards of total offense and just over three minutes and forty seconds of possession time.
Monroe took over at its 42 and recaptured its first-half success with a 10-play, 58-yard drive. After nine runs, including a 20-yard quarterback keeper to convert third-and-20, Wood slipped out of the backfield on a wheel route down the left side and Griffieth found him for a 21-yard score. The Dragons then created their own special teams highlight with a pooch kickoff angled toward their sideline, which they recovered at the MHS 42. This time, the offense needed just five rushes, including 33 yards from Griffieth, before Prittchet bowled in from a yard out to give the Dragons a 28-14 lead.
Monticello kept its raucous student section in the stands with a quick three-play scoring series. Pour flipped the field with a 41-yard dash to start. Then the Mustangs got some turf magic as the Dragons forced a fumble after Engel tossed a bubble screen to William Lawson, but fellow wideout Zayden Simpson scooped it from a bounce and raced the last 16 yards for a touchdown.
Still leading 28-20 as the fourth quarter began, Monroe’s offense had a rare three-and-out as a backfield fumble derailed hope of converting a third-and-7. But with Griffieth back in punt formation, the Dragons tried a fake that proved unsuccessful as his pass came up short of his sideline target near the sticks.
“Our defense is going to be a group that we continue to lean on and ask to be big playmakers and set us up with good field position,” said Hicks, as his squad ended up with a 4-2 advantage in turnovers, all in the second half. “They did an incredible job of taking coaching at halftime, really working on remembering their reads and keys from the week.”
Monticello took over at the WM 44 and mounted its longest series of the game, stretching six plays. Pour carried five times for 36 yards, including the final yard on third-and-goal. Early then made his first appearance in the wildcat to run in the conversion and knot the game 28-28 with 7:20 left.
“I think the best thing that happened for us tonight was coming back late in the game and establishing a good run game up front,” Hicks said.
Pour led the offense with 121 yards and three scores on 10 carries in a game where defensive and special teams returns significantly-boosted Monticello. On the other side, Monroe piled up 326 yards of total offense, led by Wood’s 131 on 30 carries and 81 from Griffieth. The Dragons’ quarterback also completed 5-of-10 passes for 59 yards.
Monroe (0-1) hosts Manassas Park (0-1) next Friday night for its home opener, while Monticello (1-0) hits the road to continue its non-district slate of Valley opponents with Waynesboro (0-1).