ALBANY -- How scary is Monroe's offense?
On a night when star quarterback Devine Noel was benched because of disciplinary reasons, the Tornadoes turned to 15-year-old freshman
Charles Strafford, who opened his career by tossing a 47-yard completion on the first play from scrimmage and ended the night throwing for 204 yards and three touchdowns as Monroe romped past Northeast Macon, 32-6, at Hugh Mills Stadium.
"I wasn't nervous at all,'' Strafford said. "I believe in my team.''
The feeling was mutual.
"We trust him,'' said Johntavious Strum, who had a bigger night than Strafford. Thursday's game wasn't Strum's first game, but it was his biggest.
Strum, a senior, did everything but sell programs. Then again, you didn't need one after this game. No. 11 was everywhere. Strum, who was one of the reason's Monroe's defense had a shutout until the final play of the game, roamed the field as a outside linebacker and torched it as a wide receiver, scoring three TD's -- one on a an interception, two on big receptions and he also recovered a fumble at the Northeast 15 and returned it nine yards to the 6.
Strum picked off a pass in the first quarter and ran for a 32-yard TD to
lift Monroe to a 14-0 lead, then caught two TD passes in the third quarter, including a 96-yard catch-and-run that broke Northeast's back.
Monroe led 14-0, but faced a third and 16 from its own four yard line when Strafford found Strum streaking down the right side. He hit him in stride at the 30, and Strum just kept flying.
"We just ran the same play and it didn't work, so we ran it again,'' Strafford said. "It worked the second time. I didn't do anything. I just threw him the ball and he was open and he caught it.''
That's what Strum said: "He made a good throw and I just caught it. You have to give credit to the offensive line. They made that play happen. They gave him time to throw.''
They were all passing the hat after the game, handing out praise to each other. It was that kind of night. The offense soared without Noel, who will be back next week, and the defense slammed every door until the final play.
Northeast's quarterback Dionte Towles, who was sacked six times for 40 yards in losses, finally got the Raiders on the board when he threw a 19-yard TD pass Adarius Davis as time expired. Monroe (2-0) has now outscored oppnents 64-18 in the first two weeks, and had six consecutive scoreless quarters before the TD ended the game.
"We wanted that shutout,'' Monroe linebacker Anthony Smith said. "We wanted it bad. It hurt when we lost it.''
Monroe's defense had 16 plays for losses, including a 17-yard loss when punter Dante Gastin had trouble catching the snap, and had given up a total of just 13 yards for the night before the final play.
"They played defense tonight like they were having fun,'' Monroe coach Charles Truitt said. "They played like they wanted to be out there.''
Northeast probably was wishing they weren't. The Raiders (0-2) simply never could get anything going, and were stunned when Monroe opened the game with Strafford's 47-yard toss to Terevious Hudson, who made a brilliant over-the-shoulder on-the-run catch to start the night. He finished with two receptions for 58 yards.
Strum, who caught Strafford's final TD pass -- a 13-yarder over the middle with 17 seconds left in the third, finished with two receptions for 109 yards.
Tailback Dominique Reid also had a big night, gaining 65 yards on 12 carries and scoring on a 2-yard run to get Monroe on the board on Monroe's first possession, and catching four passes for 35 yards, including a 10-yard TD pass that made it 26-0 with 3:40 left in the third.
Strafford finished the night, completing 11 of 18 for 204 yards. He went 8-for-10 in the second half for 145 yards and all three TD passes. He threw an interception on the second series when Juantreze Williams picked him off in the end zone, but looked like a seasoned vet for most of the night.
"He has been throwing the ball real well in practice,'' Truitt said. "And he is real cool under pressure. He grew up tonight.''
He had to. Monroe called a deep route on the first play.
"We put him in the fire right early to see what he could do,'' Truitt said. "We weren't going to scale back our offense because Devine wasn't in there. I tip my hat to my offensive coordinator and my offensive coaches.
"Devine will be back next week,'' he added. "I think he's learned his lesson. But it says a lot about our offense that we could have a game like that with him out.''