Albany Herald High School beat writer Mike Phillips
Charles Truitt's voice was breaking.
He was hurting. He was angry. He wanted to beat someone up.
So he took it out on himself.
"I promise you,'' Truitt began, "this will not happen again. It's all on me. I will change it. I will correct it. Next year, we will be back in the playoffs.''
That was a little more than a year ago. Monroe had just lost the season finale to Westover, and Truitt had to live with the fact that his kids were not going to the playoffs.
So he beat himself up, took all the blame -- tossed it right on those big shoulders and vowed to change it, right there at Hugh Mills Stadium.
He was talking to me, but the promise he made was to himself.
He kept it.
Monroe is in the playoffs again. The Tornadoes have been there five of the eight seasons Truitt has coached them, but this year's bumpy season might feel a little sweeter than the others.
They had to win last week just to get in, and they had to beat their biggest rival, Westover to do it. The crushed the Patriots, 27-10, playing their best game of the season.
If they have another one that good, they'll win tonight.
Yes, they will beat Baldwin, a state power that is ranked No. 10 in The AP's state poll -- a team that knows all about playoff football. Monroe will have a long drive to Milledgeville tonight, but the drive to get here has been even longer.
This is not the same team that played the first half of the season, and if not for some wild turnovers and three short-drive scores against Crisp, the Tornadoes would be storming into the playoffs with a four-game winning streak.
Forget that 28-25 loss to Crisp. Truitt said it actually helped his team because of the way the offense came together to score 25 points in the second half.
Now they need to come together in the new season. No one in Georgia will pick Monroe to upset Baldwin, but Travis Lockhart's offensive line is playing better than anyone in this part of the state right now, and if QB Charles Stafford gets time he can burn anyone.
That alone makes Monroe a threat to win tonight.
OK, I'm pulling for Truitt and his kids because they took the long road to get here and because if anyone deserves a break, it's Monroe.
Truitt kept his promise. The Nadas made it to the first round. I'll keep my promise to Truitt (from last week's Westover pick) and take him to dinner. He wants to go to Blackbeard's.
But not for right away. I'm guessing he and his team will be a little busy for a while.
PREDICTION: Monroe 21, Baldwin 14
UPSET OF THE WEEK: All Mitchell County has to do is knock off the defending state champs tonight, but the Eagles have speed, and that's what it will take to beat Clinch County.
Nobody gets a tougher draw in the first round of the playoffs than Mitchell, but after that tough first-round loss to Savannah Christian a year ago, the feeling is Eagles coach Dondrial Pinkins will have his kids more than ready to pull off the upset.
There will be a new Class A state champ in Georgia because Clinch is going down in Camilla tonight.
PREDICTION: Mitchell County 35, Clinch County 30.
SPEAKING OF NEW STATE CHAMPS: Seminole County coach Alan Ingram said this week that "Most of the sports writers in Atlanta don't know a dang thing about Seminole County.''
He's right, and the other writers in the state don't know much about a team that might just win it all. That's why Ingram's Indians are ranked eighth in the AP state poll that's voted on by sports writers.
I do know a "dang thing" about Seminole County, and I think Ingram's kids can win it all. If they stay healthy they can play with any Class A team in the state. They're at home tonight. Next month, they'll be in the Georgia Dome -- so all the sports writers in Atlanta can get a first-hand view.
PREDICTION: Seminole County 45, Bacon County 21.
DON'T CALL IT AN UPSET: Whatever you do, don't come back Saturday and tell me Bainbridge upset Ware County. Sure Ware County is a huge favorite and at home, but this will not be an upset. Bainbridge will win tonight because the Bearcats are just that good. With one break they would be 9-1 right now, but even at 8-2 they can line up with just about anyone this side of Northside, Warner Robins.
Ed Pilcher's kids have come a long way since August when no one outside their huddle gave them a chance to make the playoffs. But Quincy Fortson has become the perfect QB for Pilcher's veer, and players such as LB Rodney Glenn, who had never played football before, and others have stepped up and made this team a force in Class AAAA.
Be-Ware of the Bearcats.
PREDICTION: Bainbridge 17, Ware County 14.
ANOTHER CLASSIC -- NOT: Deerfield-Windsor won't need a last-second field goal to beat Mount de Sales tonight in the opening round of the GISA Class AAA playoffs. Nobody gets a team ready in the playoffs like Knights coach Allen Lowe.
It's all Knights, all night long tonight.
PREDICTION: DWS 28, Mount de Sales 14.
BEST OF THE REST PLAYOFF MATCHUPS: Here's my predictions for the rest of the lineup.
Westwood 50, Covenant 7
Terrell Academy 21, Briarwood 7
Peach County 20, Worth County 14
Wilcox 28, Calhoun County 7
Americus-Sumter 14, Mary Persons 7
Charlton County 35, Miller 21