Carlos Manning's only catch of the season turned out to be the biggest play of the 2AA state championship game in Chapel Hill on Friday.
Manning hauled in a 38-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Lamar Raynard with 1:02 left in the fourth quarter to lift High Point Andrews to a 18-14 win over Monroe in UNC's Kenan Stadium.
Manning, a starting cornerback, didn't enter the game at receiver until the Red Raiders' final drive.
"We knew the free safety was going to key in on Justin Lea, so I knew if Carlos could get by his man it was going to be perfect, and he did," said Raynard of the game-winner. "I saw the cornerback stumble and my eyes opened really big. I threw the ball and Carlos caught it, and I just dropped to my knees because it was unbelievable."
Andrews improved to 14-1 with the victory, while Monroe ended its season with a 13-3 mark. The Redhawks had their 10-game winning steak snapped.
"It was a great year," said Monroe coach Johnny Sowell. "Unfortunately somebody's got to win and somebody's got to lose. We had a great team effort all season. I'm definitely proud of them for what they've done the last two years."
The Redhawks started with a bang on Friday, marching 78 yards on 10 running plays on their first possession. The drive was capped off by senior tailback Tre'Shun Wynn's 4-yard TD run.
Monroe converted the two-point conversion for an 8-0 lead as part of a dominant first quarter, when the Redhawks outgained the Raiders 108-20 in total yardage.
"I thought Monroe was getting off the ball better than we were early in the game, but I just kept telling our guys to relax and play," said Andrews coach Rodney McKoy. "We started making some adjustments and started plugging at it and plugging at it."
Andrews finally got on the board just before halftime when Raynard found Daquan Wade for a 8-yard touchdown pass to make it 8-6 at the break. The score was set up by a 45-yard run by senior tailback Marquell Cartwright, who was named his team's offensive player of the game after finishing with 179 yards on the ground.
Andrews quickly took a 12-8 lead on the opening drive of the second half when Raynard hit Lea for a 28-yard scoring strike, but Monroe wasn't finished.
After totaling just a combined 43 yards of offense over the second and third quarters, the Redhawks found some life in the fourth after grabbing the momentum on Montez Rorie's blocked punt.
Junior tailback Chase Byrum ripped off three straight runs of 10-plus yards, including a 12-yard score that put Monroe ahead 14-12 with 6:03 to play.
MHS forced a Red Raiders punt on the ensuing possession, but the Redhawks had to punt the ball right back following a three-and-out.
The Redhawks forced Andrews into a third-and-long with 1:30 left, but a defensive pass interference call kept the drive alive. Raynard hit Manning for the game-winner on the next play.
Monroe had one last chance after driving into Andrews territory, but Redhawks freshman quarterback Zephaniah Wall was sacked by Devon Underwood on the final play and the Red Raiders stormed the field in celebration.
"It was a defensive game and our defense played a heck of a game," said Raynard. "We were scoring 50 points a game in the regular season, but tonight we only scored 18. Big props to Monroe. They had a great offense, great defense and a great team, period."
Byrum was named Monroe's offensive player of the game after finishing with 131 yards on 23 carries.
Wynn was voted defensive player of the game after totaling nine tackles, which shared team-high honors with junior linebacker Eric Heath.
Sowell praised his seniors after the game. The Redhawks have a 43-16 record over the last four seasons, which includes three Rocky River Conference championships and two trips to the final four.
"Those guys are all leaders," said Sowell of his senior class. "Without them we wouldn't be here. Our seniors have been the core of our offense and defense all year."
Wynn, the team's only four-year starter, reflected on his high school career.
"It's been a fun four years at Monroe," said Wynn. "It kind of flew by faster than you think. I'm thankful for my four years here because every year we grew. We got further and further, and then this year we made it. We just couldn't finish the game."
2AA state title game
Andrews 18, Monroe 14
Andrews^0^6^6^6 - 18
Monroe^8^0^0^6 - 14
M - Tre'Shun Wynn 4 run (Isaiah Thomas from Zephaniah Wall)
A - Daquan Wade 8 pass from Lamar Raynard (run failed)
A - Justin Lea 28 pass from Raynard (run failed)
M - Chase Byrum 12 run (pass failed)
A - Carlos Manning 38 pass from Raynard (pass failed)
Rushing: Andrews - Marquell Cartwright 26-179, Wade 3-22, Delmonico Hill 3-8, Rontel Wilkes 5-7, Team 3-(-6); Monroe - Byrum 23-131, Wynn 7-42, Julius Stradford 8-38, Wall 8-17, Team 1-(-2).
Passing: Andrews - Raynard 6-13-0 105; Monroe - Wall 6-16-0 56.
Receiving: Andrews - Manning 1-38, Lea 1-28, Wade 2-17, Wallace Powell 1-12, Cartwright 1-10; Monroe - Thomas 4-34, Jaylan Barbour 2-22.