Charlotte Latin running back Demarkes Stradford returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown and the Hawks rolled over Providence 37-21 in the first game of “Kickoff Night” at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Charlotte Latin is the first Mecklenburg County private school to defeat a Class 4A public high school team in football since Charlotte Country Day beat Boiling Springs Crest 27-9 in 2005 and Rock Hill Northwestern 51-48 in 2007.
Stradford wasn’t done after the kickoff return. The junior scored three touchdowns and accounted for 218 all-purpose yards in the Hawks’ historic win. In addition to the opening-kickoff score, he caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bates Jones and scored on a 7-yard run. ‘
“I want to thank my teammates because I wouldn’t be able to do anything without my line,” said Stradford. “Me and my teammates we all showed up today; and wanted to get the win, and we got it.”
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Jones also had a big day. The senior completed nine of 13 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught a 40-yard, first-half pass from running back Melvin Rouse who took the snap from the wildcat formation and found Jones alone downfield .
Latin coach Larry McNulty said he emphasized to his team all week that they could make history.
“We sold that to the kids all week long and we talked about all of the great teams we’ve had in the past who never got a chance to play in something like this,” McNulty said.
Latin’s defense also could not be overlooked Saturday. The Hawks held the Providence offense to 42 first-half yards and four first downs while creating three turnovers in the contest. Latin defensive backs Ryan Ensor and Rouse each had an interception and Christopher Elliott had a fumble recovery.
The Panthers scored three second-half touchdowns but the first-half damage had already been done. Providence quarterback Jack Cherry went completed 10 of 21 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. He ran 13 times for 45 yards.
A bright spot for Providence in the second half was sophomore running back Nate Kibabme. He had 10 second-half carries for 39 yards and a 2-yard score.
Worth mentioning: The temperature on the field was close to 95 degrees and players from both teams experienced cramping. McNulty said that by midway of the fourth quarter eight of his starters were on the bench with cramps.
Quote: “Year in and year out everybody kept saying you guys are good in your league, but you can’t compete with the big boys. Well, we did today. It was a motivator for us.” - Latin Coach Larry McNulty.
Records: Charlotte Latin (1-0), Providence (0-1)
What’s next: Providence plays at Vance Friday, and Charlotte Latin will host Pittsboro Northwood .