HARTWELL — The 'Canes entered their last game of the regular season with a playoff berth assured, but Hart County stood between them and a home game in the first round of competition next week.
What followed was a nailbiter of a game that will see the Canes host a playoff game next Friday as they edged out Hart 19-16.
Monroe got off to a brilliant start as Mason Byron caught the opening kickoff near the 5 and ran it all the way back for an opening touchdown. Kyle Daigle's kick was good for a 7-0 lead early.
Hart roared down the field in response, but a holding call wiped out a touchdown for the Bulldogs and the Canes held firm on a 4th and 7 to force the ball over on downs.
After trading punts for a while, Hart finally hit paydirt on an 18-yard touchdown pass, set up by a Monroe fumble near midfield.
Monroe started a drive on the ensuing possession, but two sacks drove them back deep before the snap on a punt attempt went high into the endzone, where Bulldogs swarmed the punter for a safety.
Taking the ball at the Monroe 44 on the place kick, Hart drove quickly, scoring again on a 5-yard touchdown dash.
After parallel three and outs, Monroe took over at the Hart 44 after a Bulldog punt and began their best drive of the half, led chiefly by Alan Jones. After reaching the 1, Monroe finally punched it in on a run by Jeremiah Anderson. The kick was blocked, however, to leave the Canes down by 3.
Hart looked set to extend that lead on its opening drive of the third quarter, but a fumble inside the Monroe 15 was jumped on by Jeffery Smith to take over the possession.
Monroe's offense remained spotty, however, and they kicked it away with nothing to show for the turnover.
After a scoreless third quarter, Hart thought to put the game away with a pick six, only to see the score negated by a personal foul. The turnover stood, however, and the Bulldogs began to chew up the clock as they clung to their 3-point lead.
An incomplete pass on 4th and 2, however, gave Monroe the ball back with five minutes left.
One play later, Byron ran 54 yards to reach the 9-yard line and revitalize the Monroe offense.
After a face mask penalty against the Bulldogs, Byron ran it in from one yard out to regain the lead. Hart blocked the kick again, however, to keep it a 3-point game
With 3:56 left in the game, the Bulldogs had a relative eternity to try and score and they immediately mounted a drive to do just that.
Hart reached as far as the 26 before facing 4th and 7 and an errant pass returned the ball to Monroe possession.
With only 2:12 left, Byron took over under center as Monroe went into run the clock mode. While Hart exhausted its timeouts, Monroe gained the first down they needed and lined up in victory formation to cap off the win.
Monroe finished the regular 8-2 and second in the region. They'll be at home next week to start the playoffs.