Monroe football coach Charles Truitt knows that while his team has gone 2-4 this year, they could be 5-1 if not for costly mistakes in close games.
ALBANY -- Monroe's Tornadoes are not up against the wall, but they can sure feel its shadow.
And a loss tonight in Worth County would surely shove them right up against the bricks.
"We've got to win this game,'' said Monroe tailback and Herald Dynamite Dozen selection Devine Noel. "It's pretty much the biggest game for us (all year so far). We've got to win this game and get back on track.''
That's where Monroe stands right now -- just off the tracks. But it's not a train wreck as much as it is a season of being so close. The Tornadoes (2-4 overall) are 0-2 in the Region 1-AAA race, but they played well before losing to state-ranked Cairo and fell to Americus-Sumter, 6-0, last week in a game they could have won.
"You look at Monroe on film and you see they could be 4-2 or 5-1 instead of 2-4,'' said Worth coach Scotty Ward, whose team is almost as desperate for a win tonight. The Rams are 1-1 after losing to Americus, 36-29, in a game they led 22-0, and barely escaping last week with a 23-18 win against Westover.
"This is (just as) big game for us,'' Ward added. "We're 1-1, but this feels like a must-win game.''
It will take three wins in the region to get to the postseason, and that's why tonight's game means so much to both teams. If Monroe loses, the Tornadoes would have to run the table and win their last three games to reach the playoffs.
"We need to win our last four games and make a run at the playoffs,'' Noel said. "And that starts against Worth County.''
Monroe played Cairo close until the fourth quarter when the Syrupmakers turned a 12-7 lead into a 33-7 win, and it turned the ball over six times against Americus, including an interception that killed a Monroe drive at the A-S 20 and set up the Panthers' only TD at the Monroe 20.
"We've made this a big game,'' Monroe coach Charles Truitt said. "We just haven't played a full game yet. We played a full game on defense against Americus, but we didn't score. We just kill ourselves. We lost six turnovers in that game. Three things have killed us this year: turnovers, penalties and the red zone. We've got to do a better job in the red zone. That's why we're 2-4 and not 5-1.''
Ward knows how good Monroe can be.
"You look at them. They're big. They're physical, and they've got (Devine), who is a real good player and they have a strong-armed quarterback who can throw the ball all over the place,'' Ward said. "We watched them against Americus last week, and they had chances to score all night.''
Worth could easily be 2-0 in the region race if not for Americus-Sumter's dramatic second half comeback by Benton, who completed 29-of-50 passes for 311 yards and threw three second-half touchdowns.
Monroe quarterback Charles Stafford might be better than Benton. Stafford has completed 104-of-157 passes for 1,331 yards and nine touchdowns this seasons. But he threw four interceptions last week against Americus.
Monroe is counting on a big game from Stafford tonight, and Truitt knows one of the keys is to give his quarterback time to throw.
"We've got to keep (Worth County's Dantavis Jones) off of him,'' Truitt said. "He is one of the best defensive linemen we will see this year, and we've got to block him.''
Americus-Sumter coach Michael Pollock said after his team beat Worth that a major factor in Benton's big night in the air was his offensive line's ability to block Jones, who gave Westover fits last week and blocked a field goal attempt that turned into a 78-yard TD return for Worth.
"They've got a lot, but they're two players who can really beat you, and that's (Jones) and their quarterback (Savon Farley),'' Truitt said. "If we don't block (Jones) it will be a long night, and we've got to be able to contain their quarterback.''
Monroe's defense will also have to worry about tailback Ellis Anderson, who carries the load for Worth. The Rams like to run the ball, but Ward said they might throw a little more this week. Farley threw two TD passes to help beat Westover last week, but the Rams ran the ball the entire second half to try to run down the clock in the close game.
Monroe's defense has played well this season, but the high-powered offense has struggled getting into the end zone.
"The defense has really played great. Our offense needs to pick it up. It's on us,'' said Monroe receiver Kevin Williams, who leads the team with 30 receptions for 490 yards this season. "We have made big plays, but after the big play we have trouble. We've had trouble scoring once we get into the red zone. It's like everybody shuts down. We've disappointed our coaches.
"If we get our offense rolling we will be straight for the rest of the year,'' he said. "We've got to do it right now.''
That wall is growing closer and closer.
"It's got to happen now,'' said defensive end Vantrel McMillian, who also plays tight end for Monroe. "It starts now. We need this to have a shot at the playoffs. We don't need to lose again. It starts against Worth.''
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WHO: Monroe (2-4, 0-2 in 1-AAA) at Worth County (3-3, 1-1 in 1-AAA)
WHAT: Huge Region 1-AAA showdown.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today.
LIVE UPDATES: Log on and follow the game at: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.