Monroe coach Charles Truitt leads the Tornadoes on the road in the first round of the playoffs against a state power for the second year in a row.
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WHO: Monroe (7-3) at Griffin (9-1).
WHAT: GHSA Class AAAA state playoff opener for both teams.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today.
LIVE SCORING UPDATES: twitter.com/AlbHeraldsports.
ALBANY — Been there, done that.
That’s the slogan this week at Monroe, where the Tornadoes are getting ready to face Griffin in the Class AAAA state playoffs tonight.
Nobody knows about playing on the road in the playoffs like the Nadas.
“Our kids don’t mind playing on the road,’’ Monroe coach Charles Truitt said. “They would love to play at home, but they have no fear of the road. I think we are more focused on the road.’’
They will need to be. Griffin (9-1) has been ranked in the state’s top five all season and finished fifth in the final state poll. The Bears’ only blemish was a 17-14 loss to Stockbridge, which won the Region 4-AAAA title and is ranked No. 4 in the state poll.
Nada Nation will travel about 135 miles north to face a team that likes to throw the ball even more than Monroe (7-3). Griffin quarterback Jaquez Parks fires out of a spread offense that has put up 91 points in the last two games. He has completed 136-of-237 passes for 2,071 yards and 18 TDs with eight interceptions, and he’s rushed for 306 yards on 79 carries (3.87 average) and three TDs.
“They throw the ball about 90 percent of the time,’’ Truitt said. “I went to my three seniors in the secondary — Jawaski Randle, Ernest Davis and Keonte Franklin — and told them they have to step up in this game because they will determine if we win or lose. I told them it’s on you. They always accept the challenge. They will step up.’’
Randle, who leads the secondary, said no problem.
“I feel great about that situation,’’ he said. “I want the game to be on my shoulders. It shows what kind of leader and what kind of player you are. It’s like (teammate) Anthony Smith always says: ‘It’s a big game, and big-time players make big plays in big games.’ ”
Smith, a Herald Dynamite Dozen linebacker, said he felt the game would be decided by Monroe’s defense.
“We’ve got to put pressure on their quarterback,’’ said Smith, who leads Monroe with 110 tackles. “That’s the key to the game. We’ve got to put pressure on him and take pressure off our secondary.’’
Keep an eye on defensive tackle Cortez Banks, who has 93 tackles and 10 sacks, and defensive end Tim McCray, who has four sacks for Monroe.
If Parks can get rid of the ball, he’s got plenty of hands to catch it.
Quay Mangham (30 receptions for 643 yards and 7 TDs), Christian Owens (30 receptions for 429 and 3 TDs) and tailback Devontae Freeman (25 receptions for 419 yards and 3 TDs) have combined for almost 1,500 yards. Freeman leads the team in rushing (630 yards on 93 carries and 10 TDs).
It could be a night of fireworks between the two quarterbacks, but Monroe’s Charles Stafford, a Dynamite Dozen QB, has completed 162 of 247 passes for 2,426 yards and 19 touchdowns. He has completed 65.5 percent of his passes and has been better down the stretch, throwing for more than 900 yards over the last three games of the season, including a 349-yard night against Cairo.
He didn’t throw a pass in the fourth quarter against either Crisp County or Worth County in that stretch run. Stafford has rushed for 177 yards and scored six TDs.
Griffin coach Steve DeVoursney told the Griffin Daily News he is aware of Stafford.
“They have the best quarterback we’ve seen all year,’’ he said. “It’ll probably be the first team we’ve played all year that’s faster than us.’’
Stafford doesn’t see it as a showdown between quarterbacks.
“That doesn’t matter,’’ he said. “I think our defense will have a good game against them. We just have to play our game.’’
Kevin Williams has been Stafford’s favorite target, and has made 44 receptions for 777 yards and nine TDs. He has also returned three kicks for touchdowns and probably would have even more but teams simply don’t kick the ball to him any more. Randle also has a punt return for a TD.
In the past few weeks, Emanuel Davis has emerged and now has 42 receptions for 506 yards and three TDs, and Devonntavis Campbell, a sophomore, has made some spectacular catches this season and has 35 receptions for 553 yards and four TDs. Sophomore tailback Daryl Brown has come on strong after sitting out half the season with an ankle injury and has rushed for 404 yards on 83 carries and also made 18 receptions for 237 yards.
Monroe has been here before. Last year the Tornadoes had to go on the road to face state-ranked Baldwin, and they won. Then they faced one of the top teams in the state on the road in the second round and almost upset Gainesville before losing, 16-13. Gainesville is now a Class AAAAA team ranked in the state’s Top 10.
“We went on the road last year and beat Baldwin, and they were ranked No. 8 in the state,’’ Stafford said. “That gave us confidence that we can beat anybody.’’
And playing on the road doesn’t bother Monroe’s players at all. They like it.
“I love it. It helps your confidence,’’ Randle said. “It gives you a feeling you’re on a mission. You’re going to make a statement, to make a name for yourself.’’