Monroe star QB Charles Stafford moved to Georgia from Florida because he had family in Cairo, although he wound up in Albany. Tonight at Hugh Mills, Stafford will have lots of fans in the stands from both towns rooting him on to a win against the Syrupmakers. (Herald file photo)
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WHO: Cairo (6-2, 5-0 in Region 1-AAAA) at Monroe (6-2, 4-1).
WHAT: Showdown for Region 1-AAAA title.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today.
WHERE: Hugh Mills.
LIVE SCORING UPDATES: twitter.com/AlbHeraldsports.
ALBANY — It may take a calculator, a slide rule and a CPA to figure out who will win the Region 1-AAAA title, but none of that matters to the kids at Monroe, who know all too well what’s at stake tonight at Hugh Mills Stadium, where they face Cairo for the chance to win it all.
Cairo can eliminate all the talk and confusion of tiebreakers in the Region 1-AAAA race by simply winning, and most high school football fans in Georgia believe that is exactly what will happen.
After all, this is Cairo.
This is a program that hasn’t lost a region game in almost four years, a state power that knows more about winning than any team in Southwest Georgia.
Whenever anyone talks about the region race, coaches, fans and even players always say the same thing: “Well, Cairo is Cairo.’’
They should sell bumper stickers in Cairo with that message. That’s how good the Syrupmakers are.
“It’s Cairo,” said Monroe linebacker Anthony Smith, a Herald Dynamite Dozen selection. “They play hard. They are fundamentally sound and have great discipline. They are never the biggest team. They have never been the team with the most talent. But they execute, and they win.’’
Monroe’s Jawaski Randle, one of the best defensive backs in Southwest Georgia, admires the way Cairo plays the game.
“They will give up their body for one another,’’ Randle said. “They are willing to give up a lot for their team and sacrifice everything. They’re not selfish at all. They have the right mentality. They’re a unit.’’
If Smith and Randle sound like they’re teaching a course in how to win high school football games, it’s because the kids at Monroe realize that Cairo has set a standard for everyone else. They also know to beat Cairo, it’s going to take that same kind of sacrifice.
The Syrupmakers have won their last 21 region games and have won 38 of their last 39 since losing to Monroe, 19-18, in 2006 when the Tornadoes won their last region title. Cairo’s only blemish from then until now was a 24-13 loss to in 2009 to Peach County, which went 15-0 and won the state title against Gainesville that year. Cairo advanced to the state semifinals before losing to Gainesville.
As they say: Cairo is Cairo.
But if Monroe wins, the Tornadoes would force a three-way tie for first place in the region with Westover getting the third piece of that pie.
Here’s where it gets to be fun.
If there’s a three-way tie, the tiebreaker is points allowed in the games involving the three teams. That’s bad news for Westover, which beat Monroe, 17-14, but gave up 31 points in a 31-7 loss to Cairo. That’s 45 points, which means for Westover to win the tiebreaker, Cairo would have to give up at least 39 points tonight (for a total of 46) and Monroe would have to win the game while giving up at least 29 points (for a total of 46 points).
Cairo has allowed 34 points in five region games, and 20 of those came last week in a 29-20 win against Americus-Sumter. Monroe has allowed 56 points in five region games, and most of those came in a 56-26 rout against Dougherty.
Do the math: Monroe (4-1, 6-2) not only has to beat Cairo, but the Tornadoes would have to win the game by 10 points or more to win the tiebreaker.
“We’re not going into the game thinking about the points,’’ Monroe coach Charles Truitt said after practice this week. “We tell our kids before every game that we want the offense to score 40 points and we want the defense to have a shutout. That doesn’t mean we think we can score 40 points on Cairo and shut them out. Everyone knows we will have to play a great game to beat Cairo. We know they are a great team, and we know we will have to play our best game of the year to beat them.”
Still, they believe at Monroe.
“This is the biggest game of the year for us,’’ Smith said. “This is the biggest game in my four years at Monroe. We know we have a good team. We set our goals this summer to win the region title, and we’re right where we planned on being. We’re in a position to win the region title.’’
Truitt has been able to get his team to play its best down the stretch for the last two years. After struggling early, Monroe came on strong a year ago and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs before losing on the road to state-ranked Gainesville, 16-13. And the Tornadoes are peaking again at the end of the season. Dynamite Dozen quarterback Charles Stafford hasn’t thrown a pass in the second half of Monroe’s last two games because the Tornadoes have been that dominating.
But Stafford knows he needs a big night tonight. He threw for 2,564 yards last year as a sophomore and has completed 107 of 165 passes (64.8 percent) this season with thrown 13 touchdowns.
“We know this is the biggest game of the year,’’ Stafford said. “This is our goal — to win the region title. We know we have to play our best game (tonight).’’
The Syrupmakers are worried about Stafford — and all of Monroe’s weapons, for that matter.
“Not only can (Stafford) throw it, they’ve got about six or seven of them that can go catch it,” Cairo coach Tom Fallaw told the Thomasville Times-Enterprise. “That’s the biggest thing. You’re not going to be able to concentrate on one guy, because they have so many. They get rid of the ball quick. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to even bring any pressure because he gets rid of the ball so quick. It’s going to be a tough game for us.”
Stafford has a ton of relatives in Cairo, and joked earlier this week that he will have 100 family members from Cairo at the game — but they will be cheering for him. If he ever needed a big game, it’s tonight against the best defense he has faced all year.
Monroe will have to find a way to score and will need to make a statement early. Simply put, Monroe can’t have another Westover disaster. The Tornadoes dropped six passes and were flat against Westover, and trailed, 14-0, at halftime. Stafford came back and threw for almost 200 yards and tossed two TD passes in the second half only to lose, 17-14, on a Tanner Stumpe 43-yard field goal.
Monroe didn’t have its best running back against Westover, and the Tornadoes have looked like a different team since the return of sophomore tailback Daryl Brown, a small, quick scatback who has an uncanny ability to hit the hole quickly and dart for yards.
Since his return, Brown has rushed for 259 yards and two touchdowns in less than three games, and he gives Monroe’s offense a dimension it didn’t have earlier in the year. The Tornadoes will need it tonight. Cairo’s defense is legendary. The Syrupmakers have speed everywhere and hit as hard as anyone.
“They have two great linebackers,’’ Truitt said. “And they always play great defense. They’re fast and they get to the ball.
“And they have two real good running backs and their quarterback can run. All three of them can run and hurt you. We’re going to have to play a great game on defense. We have to execute and we can’t make mistakes. They excel on your mistakes. You have to take care of the ball.’’
Truitt knows what it would mean to beat Cairo (6-2, 5-0).
“They are the team in this region,’’ he said. “It’s going to be hard to beat them, but if we are going to be the team we want to be, we are going to have to beat a team like Cairo, a team the caliber of Cairo. We know to beat them we will have to play great defense, really great defense.”
Still, no one outside Nada Nation is giving Monroe much of a chance tonight. Cairo just has too much tradition, too much pride and too much at stake. The entire town will show up at Hugh Mills tonight, and one side of the stadium will be a sea of red. No one travels like the Syrupmakers — and no one in the last four years has beaten them in a region game.
“Everybody is putting us down. They don’t think we can beat Cairo,’’ Randle said. “We have to come out fighting from the very beginning of the game. This is it for us, and we have to play like it. We have to fight like a raccoon in the corner. We’ve got to come out of that corner just like that raccoon, scratching and biting and doing everything we can, doing whatever we have to do to win this game.’’
Truitt made it simple for his kids this week in practice. He delivered the same message every day.
“We have been a good team,’’ Truitt said. ‘‘This is our chance to be a great team.’’
Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. — greatness could follow…