If the Monroe football team is going to take down No. 6 state-ranked Gainesville tonight on the road, Tornadoes starting QB Charles Stafford may have to work some more magic like he did in last week’s last-second victory against No. 10 Baldwin. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY -- Nothing to lose.
That's the feeling at Monroe, where the Tornadoes have already shocked the state of Georgia once, and plan on shocking it again tonight when they face No. 6 ranked Gainesville on the road.
"The records don't matter now,'' said Monroe linebacker Anthony Smith, who had a monster game last week against Baldwin. The entire Monroe football team feels the same way.
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WHO: Monroe (6-5) at Gainesville (10-1).
WHAT: Second round of the GHSA Class AAA state playoff playoffs; Monroe goes for second straight upset win.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today.
LIVE UPDATES: Go online and log onto: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.
IF WIN: Will play the winner of Sandy Creek-Troup on Nov. 25-26.
Monroe stunned 10th-ranked Baldwin, a program with a strong playoff history, last week with a 12-9 win in Milledgeville, where no one gave Monroe a chance.
It will be the same atmosphere tonight in Gainesville, where the Red Elephants (10-1) will be overwhelming favorites against Monroe (6-5), which was 4-5 two weeks ago before playing its two best games of the season to reach the second round of the Class AAA state playoffs.
The GHSA wasn't kind to Monroe in the bracket because the Tornadoes have to beat two Top 10 teams to reach the third round (Sweet 16), and if they win tonight they could face two-time defending state champ Sandy Creek, which takes a 40-game winning streak into tonight's game against Troup.
"There's nothing easy about it. We have a pretty tough bracket,'' said Monroe coach Charles Truitt who was smiling a bit. "But in order to win a state championship, you've got to beat the best.''
But if you are going to face Giants and be in the role of David against Goliath, it helps to have confidence -- as well as rocks in your slingshot.
"We've got confidence,'' Monroe linebacker Anthony Smith said. "We're riding off our confidence, and we feel we can match up with anybody we play.''
Truitt feels the same way.
"They believe they can play with anyone right now,'' Truitt said. "They have been gaining confidence every week.''
Gainesville comes roaring into the game with a 10-game winning streak after losing to Buford, the top Class AA team in Georgia, on opening night. The Red Elephants have one of the most explosive offenses in the state, featuring quarterback Deshaun Watson, who runs Gainesville's spread offense.
Watson has thrown for 2,543 yards and 36 touchdowns this season, and has accounted for 14 touchdowns (either in the air or on the ground) in the past two games. Gainesville is averaging 462 yards a game, including 269 in the air, and is scoring almost 45 points a game.
"They run a wide-open offense, and their quarterback is tough,'' Truitt said. "He is the perfect person to run that type of offense. He is their offense. We watched him on film, and he's everything they say he is.''
Still, Truitt is going into the game feeling his kids can win.
"They score a lot of points, but I like the opportunity to play them,'' Truitt said. "It's their strength, their offense, against our strength, our defense. It will come down to their offense vs. our defense. It's going to be a good game. In order for us to win we will have to have a repeat performance of what we did last (Friday) night.''
Smith said the game plan is simple.
"They've got a great quarterback. He's a playmaker,'' Smith said. "If we contain him, we win the game.''
Monroe's defense not only held Baldwin and its versatile and talented quarterback to nine points, but had two goal line stands. The Tornadoes held Baldwin to a field goal after Baldwin had a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line, and later held the Braves inside the 10 when Vantrel McMillan intercepted a pass.
"Our defenses is playing lights out,'' Truitt said. "That's what we have to do against Gainesville. We have to stop their quarterback, and we have to play a mistake-free game and not hurt ourselves with turnovers and penalties.''
Monroe won last week when Charles Stafford completed a 51-yard TD pass to Kevin Williams with 12 seconds left, lifting the entire team -- and program -- off its feet.
"We're going into this game with momentum,'' Williams said. "We believe in each other, and we believe can win.''
What about Stafford, Monroe's sophomore quarterback who has thrown for more than 2,200 yards this season?
"I've got all the faith in the world in him,'' Williams said.
So do all the Tornadoes. Stafford has the poise and arm strength to carry any team, and it's hard to believe there are many quarterbacks in Georgia with a more accurate arm. He threw for 200 yards last week and both of Monroe's touchdowns against Baldwin, including the clutch throw at the end -- right after Baldwin had scored with 1:20 left to take the lead.
"After Baldwin scored I could see the look in their eyes that they were determined to win that game,'' Truitt said. "Usually when a team scores like that at the end of a game it takes the wind out of your sails. But they took it to another level. They believe that now. They believe they can compete with anybody. Confidence can take you a long way.''
Monroe looks like a different team than from earlier in the season. The Tornadoes have a balanced attack with Brandon Gordon and Devine Noel running the ball behind an ever-improving offensive line, and along with Stafford they have big-time receivers in Williams and Terevious Hudson. And they have a defense that has given up one touchdown in the past two must-win games.
"They are playing with a sense of urgency,'' Truitt said. "They have all stepped their game up. They have stepped up as a team. They believe in themselves, and they believe in each other.''
The greater the odds, the more the Monroe kids seem to like it. They all said they like being the underdogs, and Truitt agreed.
"We are relishing the underdog role,'' he said. "They want to go out and prove people wrong.''
The Tornadoes will also have to beat the road, because of the GHSA's unbelievable format in the playoffs. Monroe is closer to Gainesville, Fla., than Gainesville, Ga., and the Red Elephants are closer to Charlotte, N.C. or Knoxville, Tenn., than they are to Albany.
Still, the Tornadoes will travel more than 230 miles to play tonight, and because of the distance Truitt loaded up his team and they made the trip Thursday. They spent the night in a hotel and will workout today at Creekside High School, before traveling on to Gainesville.
No one in North Georgia will expect much from a 6-5 team, but that's fine with Monroe.
"We like being the underdogs,'' said McMillan, a defensive end who had a huge game against Westover two weeks ago in a do-or-die game to get Monroe to the playoffs, then had another big game against Baldwin.
"Forget what we did in the past this season. It's a whole (180). We're a different team right now. We're playing as a unit, one team. We're being unselfish. It's all about the team,'' McMillan said. Our record doesn't matter. I think we shocked a lot of people. Baldwin thought that was going to be an automatic win.
"There are 16 teams left, and we're one of them,'' he added. "And after Friday there will be eight teams, and we plan on being one of them.''