Monroe advanced to the 1AA West Regional final by blasting Mount Airy 61-31 Friday night.
The game was supposed to be a case of the irresistible force and the immovable object. The Redhawks came in averaging 41 points, while the Bears had surrendered just 8.75 points in a 12-game winning streak.
In this case, the Monroe offense was certainly an irresistible force, scoring on every possession until running out the clock in the fourth quarter.
A 17-point swing in a minute and a half put the game out of reach early in the third quarter.
Monroe led 27-10 late in the first half, but the Bears were on the move.
Mount Airy moved the ball down the field to the 31-yard line with 38.8 seconds left.
After a timeout, the Bears went for it on fourth-and-3. The defense nearly sacked quarterback Austin Taylor, but he spun away and sprinted toward his right. He fired a pass to the sideline where Garrett VanHoy made a chain-moving catch at the 23-yard line with 28.9 left.
The home crowd roared its approval and showed it still had faith in its team.
However, the clock ran down on the Bears, who called a timeout with one-tenth of a second left at the 6-yard line.
Sure-footed kicker Mitchell Brown could have punched in a 23-yard field goal to make it 27-13, but Coach Kelly Holder knew he would need more points against this Redhawk team.
Taylor lofted a pass to the end zone, but couldn’t complete it to reach halftime.
Monroe took the opening kickoff of the third quarter 94 yards through the middle of the defense untouched. That made it 34-10 just 12 seconds into the third.
On the next kickoff, Logan Young was hit hard and dropped the ball. He managed to get the ball back at the 14-yard line.
Running back Zaqwan Dobson picked up 18 yards on two carries to give the Bears a first down at the 32-yard line.
Dobson had been nursing a sore right shoulder for a few weeks. On the next carry, Dobson took a shot to that shoulder and went to the ground. Defender Lavonte Baker picked up the ball and raced 30 yards to the end zone. With the extra point, the score was 41-10 just 1:26 into the second half.
Holder said he was proud of his team for its perseverance. The squad didn’t fold when Julius Coram and Devontae Dobson went down with injuries in the regular season. The Bears didn’t give up in this game, either.
Mount Airy moved the ball steadily down the field on the next drive with fullback Andrew Jones finishing things off with a 13-yard touchdown run for a 41-17 margin.
On the next possession, the Bears held on third-and-17 to seemingly force a punt, but the Redhawks refused to punt all night. They snapped the ball to QB Quashaun Chambers who scrambled to buy time before finding a receiver downfield for a first down.
The Redhawks scored again, but the Bears answered with a TD of their own as Jones pushed in from a yard out.
After another Monroe score to make it 54-24, senior Darius Gwyn scored his second touchdown of the night on a 90-yard kickoff return. In the first half, Gwyn caught a 30-yard TD pass from Taylor, who had faked running a quarterback keeper from the shotgun.
Gwyn finished with three catches for 63 yards and two combined TDs.
Taylor was 7-14 for 101 yards and one score. He also ran eight times for 38 yards.
Dobson led the Bears with 88 yards rushing on 16 carries. Jones had 65 yards on eight carries and two scores. Shay Wilson had 10 carries for 42 yards.
Jones and Wilson are sophomores, so Bear fans should expect plenty more from those two.
On one of the most crowd-pleasing plays of the game, Jones took a handoff in the second quarter and was met quickly by a Redhawks linebacker. Jones ran the defender over and picked up five more yards.
In the third quarter, Jones was lined up across from the same defender on a kickoff and pancaked the would-be tackler so that Young could get a good gain out to the 35-yard line.
Still, the Bears couldn’t stop the Redhawks offense, which racked up 481 yards.
Chambers finished with 107 yards rushing and 120 yards passing. Fullback Julius Stradford had 12 carries for 100 yards. Halfback Chase Byrum had 17 carries for 91 yards.
Holder said after the game that his guys showed their character with the way that they competed every week despite lingering injuries.
Players like Zaqwan Dobson and Benji Hicks have been so banged up that they couldn’t practice during the week, but still played on Friday nights, he noted.
Dobson also was an emotional leader on the sideline. Last season he sat on the bench with an ice pack on his injured left knee, but on Friday he walked the sidelines pumping up his teammates.
In the first quarter, Dobson yelled to his fellow offensive players, “We’re playing a good team. Support your defense.”
After the Redhawks scored their second touchdown, Dobson chastised his teammates, “I hope we’re not playing scared.”
Monroe (11-3) will face Swain County (14-0) next week for the right to play in the state championship game.