STATE SEMIFINAL SHOWDOWN
As Rocky River Conference champions and the No. 2 seed in the 2AA bracket, Monroe High's football team was expected my many to make a deep postseason run.
The Redhawks (12-2) are in the state semifinals for the second straight season, but tonight's opponent is in unfamiliar territory.
Union County foe Parkwood (8-6) qualified for the playoffs as the 16th and final seed, but has reeled off three straight road wins over higher seeds, including a win over No. 1 seed Franklin in the first round.
The Rebels are making their first trip to the semifinals since 1972.
"With what they've done I'm sure everybody is riding high, and they should be because they've accomplished something that hasn't been done in a long time," said Monroe coach Johnny Sowell of the Rebels. "As far as the communities I think it's a great thing for both sides. You have two county teams playing in the state semifinals."
The Redhawks are on a roll of their own, winning their last nine games by an average of 30.4 points.
One of those wins was a 46-7 decision over the Rebels in their regular season meeting.
"We know Parkwood's playing better, but we're just focused on Monroe and what we need to do to win on Friday," said Redhawks senior linebacker Isaiah Thomas. "We can't worry about anything else."
The first meeting
Monroe used a dominant run game to roll past the Rebels in a Rocky River Conference matchup on Oct. 25.
The Redhawks racked up 285 rushing yards, including 129 on 21 carries by junior tailback Chase Byrum, who finished with two touchdowns.
Senior tailback Tre'Shun Wynn added 95 yards and two scores on just six touches while freshman quarterback Zephaniah Wall added 51 yards and a TD.
Monroe led 18-0 at the half and 38-0 by the end of the third quarter.
"The biggest thing you have to do is take that game and throw it away," said Sowell of the first meeting. "If you have a chance to talk to our players, you won't hear them saying anything about Parkwood. It's more about what we need to do."
Monroe totaled 35 rushing plays and threw it just eight times against a Rebel defense that keyed on stopping the run.
"They're going to being six or seven guys every time, and in some cases eight or nine," said Sowell of the Rebels' defense. "They're going to do a lot of the same stuff they did the first time from what we've seen on film."
Monroe's defense also had a big night in the first meeting.
Junior Jaqueis Alsbrooks had a 19-yard fumble return for a touchdown and sophomore Desmen Robinson added a 35-yard interception return for a score.
The Redhawks allowed 232 yards of offense by the Rebels, including 112 rushing on 39 carries.
Sophomore Tre Butler scored Parkwood's lone TD on a five-yard run late in the fourth quarter.
Consistent defenseDuring their current nine-game winning streak, the Redhawks are allowing just 8.7 points per game.
Not one of their nine opponents has scored more than 15 points and five have been held to eight points or less.
Senior linebacker Ashad Byrd leads Monroe with 137 tackles on the season, while Thomas is just behind with 136 total stops.
Dequavis Allen, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound tackle, ranks third on the team with 93 tackles.
Allen has a team-best 28 tackles for loss, followed by Thomas (16), Byrd (16), senior Montez Rorie (13) and senior Jamarcus Glenn (12).
Monroe has 37 sacks in 14 games, including nine by Glenn and six by Alsbrooks.
The Redhawks have forced 35 turnovers, including 18 interceptions and 17 fumble recoveries.
Junior Richard Blakeney leads the team with four interceptions while Alsbrooks has six fumble recoveries.
Thomas has forced a team-high seven turnovers, including four fumble recoveries and three interceptions.