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PREP FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Monroe on the road again in state playoffs

The Herald No. 5 Tornadoes will be seeking to advance to the second round for a third straight year

Monroe quarterback and reigning Herald Player of the Year Charles Stafford will look to lead the Tornadoes to an upset victory Friday against state-ranked No. 9 Wayne County, which has only lost to No. 6 Burke County this season. (Staff photo: John Millikan)

Monroe quarterback and reigning Herald Player of the Year Charles Stafford will look to lead the Tornadoes to an upset victory Friday against state-ranked No. 9 Wayne County, which has only lost to No. 6 Burke County this season. (Staff photo: John Millikan)

ALBANY — Monroe coach Charles Truitt has watched four tapes of Wayne County’s football team this week.

When he looked at them a second time around — he admittedly started to get a little nervous.

As the Tornadoes (6-4) hit the road to meet the Region 3-AAAA runner-up Yellow Jackets in Jesup on Friday in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs, Truitt knows Wayne County (8-2) presents a major challenge. However, his main focus is to get his team back to playing the kind of football the Tornadoes were playing midway through the season when they won four in a row.

Monroe was hammered by Cairo 34-0 on Nov. 1, then held off a late Worth County rally to take a 34-33 victory last week.

“We’ve got to get our group ready,” Truitt said. “Then we’re not finishing games. Last week we were up 28-7. We shouldn’t have been in a dogfight like that.”

The Yellow Jackets’ only two losses were to Burke County this season. Wayne lost to the Bears during the regular season 32-28, then lost to Burke again in the Region 3-AAAA championship game in overtime last week.

Truitt is very familiar with Burke County’s program. The Bears eliminated Monroe in the second round of the playoffs last season.

“Our guys understand the significance of this game,” Truitt said. “There are no second chances if we lose this one.”

Truitt has seen enough of Wayne County’s defensive front to know the Tornadoes will have their hands full on offense. The Jackets have excellent size, and Truitt said it’s the biggest defensive front his team has seen.

He said his offensive line must give quarterback Charles Stafford, who threw for 341 yards and four touchdowns last week at Worth County, time to throw the ball.

“Those guys probably average somewhere around 300 pounds across the defensive front … that’s no joke,” Truitt said. “They’re very athletic, and they do a lot of things well. We’re going to have to use our speed against their size. Hopefully, it’ll be the speed that overcomes the size.”

For the third straight season, the Tornadoes will open the playoffs on the road. Monroe had its chances to earn the second seed and a home playoff game, but the Tornadoes were overwhelmed by Cairo in a rain-soaked West Thomas Stadium two weeks ago in a game they couldn’t get anything going offensively.

Truitt said his team traditionally has played well on the road. Two years ago, Monroe upended Baldwin on the road before falling at Gainesville.

Then last year, the Tornadoes whipped Griffin in the first round before falling to Burke County.

“We would love to be playing at home,” Truitt said. “I believe our kids are more focused when we go on the road.”

As much as Truitt and his staff are concerned about Wayne County, he’s more concerned with making sure his team plays like it should.

“We knew we were young in some positions this season,” he said. “But we’re still making some mistakes we shouldn’t be making.”

If the Tornadoes can eliminate their mistakes, that will ease a lot of Truitt’s nervousness.