In the span of just four minutes during the second quarter of their Class 1AA semifinal showdown at Swain County, the Monroe Redhawks had built a 21-0 lead and appeared poised to advance to the state title game for the first time since 1989.
Then, just as quickly, things fell apart.
After a 49-yard Swain County touchdown pass, the Maroon Devils capitalized on a pair of Monroe special teams fumbles to knot the game at 21. Monroe managed to hang on to the third kickoff, but a pass by Redhawks quarterback Quayshawn
Chambers was tipped at the line, intercepted and returned for a touchdown to give Swain the lead, 28-21.
That would prove to be the game’s final margin.
Chambers, a senior, completed 13 of his 15 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns but injured his shoulder in the first quarter. While he managed to remain in the game for the first half, starting linebacker Isaiah Thomas filled in at quarterback for the second half and even marched Monroe down the field by completing five of nine passes for 46 yards on the final drive but fumbled the ball inside the Maroon Devils’ 10-yard line.
Running back Julius Stradford notched the game’s first score, and Chase Byrum and Jeremy
Hammond collected Chambers’ two touchdown passes. Hammond also added his 10th interception of the year at safety.
Monroe coach Johnny Sowell said the loss was disappointing, especially given the bright spots. He added that he felt the better team lost the game, but said, “Good teams have a lot to do with that as well, and (Swain County) was a solid team. It was a championship-type game.”
Sowell commended Thomas, who led the team with nine tackles in the loss, for filling in admirably for Chambers.
“He’s a tough kid,” Sowell said of Thomas, a junior. “What he showed us is that we know we have a quarterback for next year as well. He stepped up and did great. We were proud of his effort.”
Sowell heaped praise on all the Redhawks, who recovered from a 1-3, injury-plagued start to the season to improve to 11-5 overall and 7-0 in the Rocky River 1A/2A conference. Sowell said many players sacrificed personal success in order to help the Redhawks turn their season around.
“Some of the kids’ stats weren’t as high as they were last year, but at the same time, we went farther than we went last year,” said Sowell, whose team went 10-4 in 2011. “Some people had to understand the importance of team. By doing that, we had success and they got success as well.”