Everything gets amped up — the lights are brighter, the sounds louder and the hitting faster and harder. That’s why teams with playoff experience have an edge.
That’s why No. 5-state ranked Griffin (9-1) has an advantage when it kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium against third-seeded Monroe (7-3) in an opening-round Class AAAA playoff game. While Griffin is at home too, it’s also nice to have that extra edge playoff experience provides.
It is a fact is not lost on ninth-year Monroe head coach Charles Truitt.
“We know Griffin has a great tradition of winning and being a great program — we’re trying to get there too,” said Truitt (61-57, .517), in his 11th year as a head coach and his ninth year leading the Tornadoes.
Griffin is led by Steve DeVoursney (113-34, .769) in his 12th year as head coach, all at Griffin.
Any way you cut it, Griffin has the clear edge when it comes to playoff experience.
While Griffin has played in 33 state playoff games in the last 20 years, Monroe has played in 13. Since DeVoursney became the Bears head coach in 2001, Griffin has played in 27 state playoff games to Monroe’s 10. Since Truitt became head coach at Monroe in 2004, the Tornadoes have 8 state playoff games to Griffin’s 22.
Even if you throw out the old history — just counting the last three seasons, since this year’s seniors were freshmen — Griffin has an 8-3 advantage. If you want to cut it down to the last two seasons, Griffin has a 4-2 edge.
That’s a lot more time under the glare of the playoff lights and scrutiny of playoff pressure when experience is at a premium.
That’s also why Griffin heads into tonight’s game looking to extend its school-record streak of consecutive first-round state playoff wins from 4 to 5.
Just like last year, when Griffin had to rally on the strength of two TD passes from then-sophomore quarterback Jaquez Parks to classmate Devontae Freeman in the final two minutes at Tara Stadium to beat Jonesboro 47-43, the Bears have another tough opening-round opponent.
Monroe, which finished third in Region 1-AAAA, has only three losses this season. One was to Region 1-AAAA second-place Westover by only three points, 17-14, while another was to Region 1-AAAA first-place and No. 7 state-ranked Cairo by only eight points, 28-20, during a season where their only other came against Class AA No. 2 state-ranked Brooks County 21-18 in the season opener.
Griffin has only one loss, a 17-14 setback to No. 4 state-ranked Stockbridge on a 27-yard field goal with no time left on the clock.
Both teams are near mirror images. Both have similar kickers, return men and coverage teams. Griffin’s is allowing 14 ppg, while Monroe is allowing 16 ppg.
They both also have real explosive spread offenses run by junior quarterbacks, Parks at Griffin and Charles Stafford at Monroe. Griffin’s offense averages 35 ppg, while Monroe averages 26 ppg — though it should be noted Monroe plays in a region where rugged-as-nails defense is the norm, not the exception.
It all adds up to mean tonight’s game should be very close.
“On offense they are just so explosive,” Truitt said of the Bears. “You would think with as many yards as the quarterback throws for they’d just be a passing team, but they can run it too.”
That’s the first of three keys tonight: Look for both teams to try to establish the run early, even if they don’t go back to it until late in the game to control the clock.
“In order for us to have a chance, to compete, we have to be able to control the line of scrimmage,” added Truitt.
Therein lies second key: Watch for the battle in the trenches.
Both offenses can toss out 67 percent of their playbook if the line can’t hold, as running lanes close down and deep routes become non-existent.
“Hopefully, we won’t be one dimensional on offense,” said Truitt. “Hopefully, because, if not, we could be in big trouble.”
Therein, with a pair of teams not afraid to air it out, lies the third key: Turnovers.
Capitalize on them and win. That’s when playoff experience shines the most.
(Sullivan is the sports editor at the Griffin Daily News.)
Rounds into the playoffs Griffin High and Monroe have played year-by-year in the last 20 seasons:
Year Griffin Monroe
2012 1+ 1+
2011 2 2
2010 2 0
2009 4 1
2008 4 0
2007 1 2
2006 2 2
2005 4 1
2004 3 0
2003 1 1
2002 3 1
2001 1 0
2000 0 0
1999 1 0
1998 2 0
1997 1 0
1996 1 2
1995 0 0
1994 0 0
1993 0 0
TOTAL: 33 13