By David Purdum / For the AJC
No. 1 Sandy Creek, No. 2 Carrollton and No. 3 Griffin are the clear-cut favorites in AAAA. But what about No. 4 Monroe Area? The Purple Hurricanes are the wild card.
Monroe Area reached the semifinals last season, but was drubbed, 35-0, by Sandy Creek. The Purple Hurricanes are off to another 6-0 start this season and are putting up impressive offensive numbers, behind star quarterback Stanton Truitt, an Auburn commitment. But are they legit? Can they compete in the playoffs with teams as talented as Sandy Creek, Carrollton of Griffin?
Coach Matt Fligg believes so.
Q: What has to happen for your team to carry over the success it has had during the regular season to the playoffs, when the competition steps up a notch?
Fligg: Our goal from the first of the year has been to play in one more game. From Day 1, we knew our defense had to grow up and mature. We start five sophomores on defense. We felt like as the season progressed and our defensive kids got better and better, we feel like we have a pretty good chance at a golden playoff run. I think our defense played really well up at Stephens County (47-0 win). That was the best defensive game we’ve played all year. Our offense just needs to stay healthy. We have some really good players on our offense with pretty good team speed. We feel like we’ll be more competitive when that time comes.
Q: How often did you bring up last season’s loss to Sandy Creek?
Fligg: It’s on the wall. Sandy Creek has kind of been our nemesis. They knocked us out in the semifinals in 2010 also. We’ve worked to get stronger, bigger and faster to be able to beat a Sandy Creek team or a team of that caliber. Sandy Creek is great. I’m glad we’re not playing them tomorrow, but I just feel like we’ll be better prepared for them or another team of that caliber this season. We do run into that region (Region 5) in round two this season.
Q: Do you feel your team was at full-strength when it faced Sandy Creek last season?
Fligg: Our quarterback, Stanton Truitt, missed games six through 10. And he did come back for the playoffs, but he really wasn’t 100 percent. We couldn’t run the ball (against them), so we planned a five-wide attack. And it really worked, but it just wasn’t our style. We tried to do something that we hadn’t worked on. But it really helped improve our offense this year. We’re much more balanced this year and have a great receiver in Michael Gallup. We feel like we’re better on offense and we’re getting to where we need to be on defense.
Q: In what areas does your defense need to improve?
Fligg: We’re very young in our secondary. We start three sophomores. They all played on our ninth-grade team last year, which was an undefeated ninth-grade team. We’re not the biggest on defense. D.J. Smith is a three-year starter at defensive end. We run out of a three-man front with four backers. We lost two good outside linebackers from last year. We’re a game-plan team that is a lot more multiple on defense this season.
Q: Like you said, it’s not just Sandy Creek. Class AAAA has a solid group of five or six legit contenders. Would you agree?
Fligg: I’ve watched tape on a lot of these teams. Stockbridge has a heck of a team, and you can’t ever count out Marist. I tell you, Statesboro is really good, and Griffin is always good. They’ve got great skill kids. Liberty County is pretty good, too. I don’t think it’s going to be a Sandy Creek or a Carrollton runaway, where they win by four or five touchdowns every week in the playoffs. I think starting from the get-go, Round 1 and Round 2, we’re going to have some interesting games.
Q: Nov. 1 looks like a huge night in AAAA, with Sandy Creek and Carrollton playing, Statesboro and Wayne County and your team visiting a Chestatee squad that appears to be your biggest test in the region. Are you looking ahead to that game at all?
Fligg: I’m really concerned with Walnut Grove (Friday’s opponent), because it’s a rival game and because they are a lot better than they were last year with skill kids. They’ve shot themselves in the foot a lot this year, but they’re improved. But the Chestatee game does look it’s setting up much like last year, for the region championship. They’re good, really good. Then, we have Eastside, the only (region) team that beat us last year. But right now, my biggest concern is having a good practice today.
Q: Which one your opponents so far this season do you think best compares to some of the better teams you’ll be seeing in the playoffs?
Fligg: Lanier is a night-and-day team from what they were last year, and they were pretty good last year. They’re 5-1 and the’ve got two great running backs and these big, tall receivers. They hit us with four touchdown passes. We’re very fortunate to make some plays against them. I think Lanier definitely is going to be a playoff team.