Monroe quarterback Charless Stafford, a Herald Dynamite Dozen selection, will try to lead the Tornadoes to their first win against Cairo since 2006, which would clinch a home playoff game for the Nadas. (Staff photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — Inside the Monroe High School fieldhouse, coach Charles Truitt’s tone has been a little more serious than usual this week. So have his players.
Truitt won’t hide what is at stake tonight when his Tornadoes travel to Cairo to meet the Syrupmakers in a game that will decide second-place in the Region 1-AAAA standings. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at West Thomas Stadium.
“This is a big game,” said Truitt, whose Tornadoes look to extend their winning streak to five games.
“This is the opportunity to host a first-round playoff game, or go on the road for a playoff game. It’s going to be a tough environment to go play in.”
Truitt said there is enough motivation for his players to play their best game of the season. Not only would beating Cairo — long considered the football measuring stick in Region 1-AAAA — be a big deal, but earning a home playoff game would be huge for the program.
While the Tornadoes have tasted the postseason, including two straight trips, no player on the roster has played a postseason game at home.
“That would be big,” said wide receiver Daryl Brown, who had perhaps his biggest game of the season last week in a 24-21 victory over Crisp County when he caught 13 passes for 144 yards.
“But this is also a big game. Monroe hasn’t beaten Cairo in a while. Cairo is the powerhouse of our region.”
The Tornadoes haven’t beaten Cairo since a 19-18 victory on Nov. 4, 2006 when they won the Region 1-AAA championship.
Tonight’s game will pit two teams playing their best football this season. Cairo has won three straight since its 14-9 setback to Westover on Sept. 27. The Syrupmakers’ defense has been the backbone, allowing a combined 13 points in victories over Albany High and Americus-Sumter in the past two games.
Cairo (5-3, 4-1 Region 1-AAAA) had its best game on offense in a 35-7 victory over Americus-Sumter last week when the Syrupmakers rolled up 381 yards of total offense, including 182 yards rushing and three touchdowns from running back Jeremiah Hill.
Monroe (5-3, 4-1) will counter with a pass-happy offense that has exploded in its previous two games against Americus-Sumter and Crisp County. Tornadoes’ quarterback Charles Stafford, the reigning Herald Player of the Year, threw for 293 yards against Americus-Sumter, then 247 yards against Crisp County last week.
One thing that does concern Truitt is the threat of rain. A near 100-percent chance is forecasted for tonight, which would neutralize their passing attack.
“The only thing good about that is we played so many games earlier this season in the rain,” he said. “Our last three games, we’ve been able to play on a dry field. Obviously, we’re a better team on a dry field. We just have to be focused to play in those kinds of situations.”
The Tornadoes practiced with wet footballs on Thursday.
Truitt wasn’t happy with last week’s 13 penalties against Crisp County. He said Monroe can’t overcome Cairo as well as its own mistakes.
He also said getting off to a good start is essential. Last week, Monroe dug itself in a 21-12 deficit before rallying for two fourth-quarter scores.
“We can’t be too hyped up coming into the game,” said defensive back/wide receiver Kimetric Parks. “If we come out too hyped up to start, we’re going to end up paying for our mistakes.”
Something that will make Truitt’s seriousness turn to anger.