Purple Hurricanes 28, Trojans 21
Difference maker: Monroe Area quarterback Floyd McCoy rushed for 158 yards, 105 on two long touchdown runs in the first half to give his team an early lead.
Stat that matters: This is the Trojans' first losing season since 2001, Bob Christmas' first year as coach.
Turning point: With a chance to drive down the field and tie the game with just over three minutes remaining, Monroe Area's Darius Blackwell intercepted a North Hall pass to effectively end the Trojans' comeback bid.
Who's next: Monroe Area will play at Ridgeland in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs; North Hall's season is over.
MONROE — An up-and-down season came to a fitting end for North Hall on Friday.
The Trojans fell 21 points behind Monroe Area in a Region 8-AAA play-in game, mounted a late comeback and fell just short, losing 28-21 and ending its hopes of a state playoff appearance.
Monroe Area takes the region's No. 3 seed and will play at Ridgeland in the Class AAA state playoffs next week.
After gaining possession with just over three minutes remaining in the game and down seven points, the Trojans (4-6, 3-2 8-AAA North) were unable to move. On third-and-14, an interception to ended their hopes of completing the comeback.
The loss gave North Hall its first losing record since 2001, the first year coach Bob Christmas was with the program.
"We really felt like we were going to come back and win this football game," Christmas said. "We thought that way at halftime, too, though."
Christmas was referring to a 78-yard kickoff return by Monroe Area to begin the second half that extended a 14-point Purple Hurricane lead to 21 points that would ultimately prove to be the difference in the game.
Immediately before halftime, the Trojans moved the ball to the Monroe Area 2-yard line, but failed to punch it in on four consecutive plays.
Quarterback Andrew Smith fumbled on first down, but retained possession. Then, after Smith was tackled for a 5-yard loss on second down, a false start backed the Trojans up further. They got the ball back down to the 4-yard line on third down, but an incomplete pass ended hopes of closing a 14-point gap heading into the half.
Then, immediately out of the locker room, Purple Hurricane running back Stanton Truitt took the kickoff 78 yards for a score to give his team a 28-7 lead.
"That was very demoralizing," Christmas said. "You've really got to hand it to our kids that they fought back."
On the ensuing North Hall possession, the Trojans mounted a nine-play drive that ended in a 20-yard touchdown by running back Imani Cross to cut the gap to 14 points again.
Monroe Area (8-2, 3-1 8-AAA South) was unable to strike back on its next possession. A North Hall onside kick attempt was not successful, and the Purple Hurricanes took possession at their own 49-yard line. They moved the ball to the 23 before a personal foul penalty backed them up 15 yards and sent one of their players to the locker room.
They did not recover from the penalty, and the Trojans were off and running again. A 10-play drive ended on another Cross touchdown to start the fourth quarter and cut the gap to 28-21. That was as close as North Hall would get.
"We dug ourselves in a hole in the first half, and we came out in the second half and tried our best," Cross said. "We tried, but we just fell a little short. But I appreciate everybody fighting. We just fell short.
"It really hurts. As an athlete, as a competitor, it really hurts."
Playing in his last game as a Trojan, Cross gained 158 yards on 25 carries and scored two touchdowns in the game, a fitting end for one of the school's biggest stars.
"It didn't turn out how I wanted to," Cross said of his final game.
The Trojans fell behind early because of its inability to stop athletic Monroe Area quarterback Floyd McCoy. McCoy scored on runs of 50 and 55 yards, the first coming after he fumbled the ball. On a quarterback keeper, the ball popped out of his hands, but bounced right back to him. He found a gap, and went untouched into the end zone.
McCoy finished with 12 carries for 158 yards and two scores to go along with two completions for 29 yards.
Purple Hurricane running back Kwan Brooks added a 72-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Christmas said that he wasn't happy with the team's effort early.
"I just didn't think we played very hard," he said. "We didn't score when we got it down close, and then we gave up a quick touchdown on the kickoff. If not for that, we could be sitting here with a win."
The Trojans struck first in the game with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Smith to wide receiver Eli Gilmer.
Smith finished 4 of 7 for 59 yards and a score through the air. Gilmer had two catches for 34 yards.