Blake Raffield

Blake Raffield (11) jumps up to make an interception for Monroe Area on Friday night in the seventh-ranked Purple Hurricanes’ win at No. 2 Oconee County. Darius Johnson Jr. (22) was the intended receiver for the Warriors.

This one’s for you, coach.

For the second straight game, Monroe Area was missing Kevin Reach, its head man who was away dealing with personal issues.

Just before the game, he texted the team.

“He said he loved them and was pulling for them,” said Hurricanes defensive coach Johnny Carter.

The team returned their affection with the biggest win in Reach’s five-year tenure at the school, upsetting second-ranked Oconee County 17-14 Friday night at Warrior Field in Watkinsville.

It was the Hurricanes’ first win over a team so highly ranked in 55 years, when they knocked of No. 2 Westminster in 1966. That team still missed the playoffs, thanks to a loss to Central Gwinnett.

For the 2021 Hurricanes, the victory guarantees they’ll be back in the postseason for the sixth straight year. Win their next two, and they’ll finish atop Region 8-AAA for the first time in three years.

The Hurricanes now lead the overall series 9-8-1, and they ended the Warriors regular-season winning streak at 23 games. They fall to 7-1 overall and 2-1 in the region.

Monroe excelled in all three phases of the game. The defense held the Warriors’ high-powered attack to just 51 yards rushing and 192 yards passing, and 13 points below their season average. Special teams recovered a kickoff to set up one score and then booted what turned out to be the game-winning field goal.

Meanwhile, the offense managed just 237 yards, but it controlled the ball and the clock with methodical drives.

“Nobody on our side is surprised we won,” Carter said. “This is the culmination of five years or hard work.”

Tied at 7 at halftime, Monroe Area kicked off to start the third and Bradyn Sorrow recovered a fumble by Warriors return man Whit Weeks.

Taking over at the Warriors 24, Hurricanes quarterback Selatian Straughter connected with tight end David Lalaian on a slant across the middle for 21 yards, setting them up at the 3.

Two plays later, junior running back Alan Jones burst up the middle for a go-head TD.

The two teams then proceeded to exchange turnovers. Straughter fumbled and threw an interception and Oconee quarterback Jacob Wright was picked off twice, once by Blake Raffield and another by Khaleed Latimore.

Midway through the fourth, Monroe took over at its own 25 and drove all the way to the Warriors 13, mostly on the ground. From there, Ricky Valdavinos kicked a 30-yard field goal to put his team up 17-7 with 2:35 remaining.

But the Warriors weren’t done. They took over at their 35 and moved the distance in just eight plays, with tight end Jake Johnson scoring his second TD of the night on a 7-yard catch.

But Monroe’s Lalaian grabbed the onside kick and the offense took one snap in the victory formation to secure the win.

The visitors’ side, jammed to capacity, erupted in celebration.

Each team had just three offensive possessions in the first half. But both put together extended scoring drives.

Oconee broke through first after a Hurricanes punt left it buried at its won 12. The Warriors went the distance in nine plays, sparked by three catches by tight end Johnson, who is the number one recruit in the country at the position. The first two went for 24 and 15 yards and the final for 25 yards and a touchdown.

Monroe took over after the ensuing kickoff at its own 20 with seconds left in the first. It consumed almost the entire second period, methodically moving 80 yards in 17 plays.

Straughter carried most of the load, running eight times for 34 yards. He also completed three passes, the last going 8 yards to Jeremy Anderson, who caught a tipped ball while laying prone in the end zone.

The Hurricanes (8-0, 3-0 Region 8-AAA) will be back on the road next Friday to face Franklin County. Oconee (7-1, 2-1) visits Stephens County.

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