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RedHawks shut down Jackets

Lexington's Kitrez Sanders (right) chases down and tackles Rahmad Sturdivant in the second half Friday night at Lexington. (Photo by Donnie Roberts/The Dispatch)

Monroe stood in the Lexington end zone, and claimed what is normally the Jackets’ turf before both teams ran onto the field for the pregame hoopla.

That was a sign of things to come.

The RedHawks made themselves right at home all night, jumping out to a 27-0 lead en route to a 41-7 victory over the Yellow Jackets at Philpott Stadium in the season opener for both teams Friday night. Julius Stradford had 207 yards and two touchdowns for Monroe, and the RedHawks’ defense was suffocating most of the night.

New Lexington coach Chuck Henderson had nothing but praise for the visitors. “They’re bigger, stronger, and faster than us, and they’re a really good football team,” Henderson said. “And that’s pretty much what happened.

“Coach (Johnny) Sowell has done a great job, he’s been there 27 years. He hasn’t been the head coach, but he went to school there, and that’s home. He’s got a great program, and that’s what we’re gonna try to model ourselves after.”

It didn’t take long for the RedHawks to establish their superiority. Monroe fumbled on the opening kickoff, giving Lexington great field position to start the game. But the Jackets went backwards, thanks to a tenacious RedHawks defense and a big penalty, and the Jackets had to punt. Tre’Shun Wynn ripped off a 32-yard run on the first snap, and Lexington compounded the problem with a late hit. Two plays later, Chase Byrum burst 11 yards around the left tackle for the game’s first score to make it 7-0.

Lexington fumbled on its next possession, and Monroe took advantage. Rahmaad Sturdivant hit Richard Blakeney with a curl pattern around the 10 yard line, and Blakeney broke to the sidelines for an easy 14-yard touchdown catch.

Lexington put together its best drive of the night following that score, trailing 13-0 midway through the first quarter. Lexington marched 60 yards in 12 plays, but the drive stalled and the Jackets turned it over on downs at the RedHawks’ 22. Just like that, Stradford zapped that momentum when he took a handoff and rumbled 78 yards for a touchdown. Monroe led 21-0 after a two-point conversion, allowing the visitors to turn up the heat even more on Lexington’s offense.

“We’ve got a veteran defense,” Sowell said. “To us as coaches, they came out a little sluggish early.

“Then in the second and third quarter, they stepped it up a little bit.”

In all, Monroe held Lexington to 185 yards of total offense, with 154 of those coming through the air and Lexington trailing big. Monroe rushed for 397 yards between seven different backs, led by Stradford’s impressive outing.

“We’ve got three back there rotating them, and whoever’s hot we’re gonna rotate them a little bit more.”

Henderson didn’t really see a Monroe back that was a big dropoff from the one before. “They’ve got great speed, great talent,” he said. “I know they lost their top running back from last year, but I’ll tell you what, I’d take those other guys too.”

Lexington finally got on the board late in the third quarter, down 35-0. The Jackets took over at midfield after Wilson Delcid recovered a fumble. Quarterback Nick Shuping kept the drive going with a 17-yard completion to Devin Cross on fourth and long, then Raekwon Byrd plowed in from six yards out to make it 35-7.

Wynn scored on a 20-yard run for the RedHawks, Stradford tacked on a 12-yard touchdown jaunt, and Byrum finished off the scoring with a 26-yard run

Byrd led the Jackets with 51 yards on the ground, and he threw for 62 yards. Shuping finished 9-of-16 through the air for 92 yards; both quarterbacks left the game with turned ankles, but Henderson said he thinks they will be fine.

Lexington welcomes Newton-Conover on Friday.

Jason Queen can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 220 or