Gardendale rolled in its 2019 opener, putting a 35-14 beating on Mae Jemison Friday night in Driver Stadium.

After a slow start for the Rockets (1-0), sophomore running back LT Sanders found his footing in the second quarter and went on a tear, popping off for 130 yards and five touchdowns on 16 carries. Sanders scored from 14, 11, 5, 4 and 3 yards out. His first score pulled the Rockets to within one point at 8-7 with 6:11 remaining in the second quarter. His second score came on the following drive and put the home team out front for good at 14-8 late in the second quarter.

“He’s a special back and we’ve got a group of lineman who are just kind of ordinary kids who will play hard and they just kind of keep playing together and I think they’ll keep getting better as the year goes,” said Eads.

“We were behind and we battled back and that’s something that we’ve been working on all offseason is having the negative things happen and battle back,” he continued. “There were a lot of negatives tonight that you always find in the first game, but we overcame those.”

One of those negatives came on Gardendale’s second drive when senior running back Jayson Brooks lost a fumble down inside the Mae Jemison 5-yard line. His carries were limited following that mistake, but he later took advance of a small workload: three carries for 71 yards. Brooks took his attempts for 9, 45 and 17 yards in the win.

It was the Jaguars who started fast on Friday night, as they ran 20 plays to Gardendale’s five and went to the second quarter with an 8-0 lead. Senior Daymond Eason punctuated a 10-play drive with a 6-yard run on a quarterback keeper with 11:08 remaining in the second quarter.

The Jaguars would not score again until it was too late. Senior running back Christian Wimberly broke free up the middle for a 50-yard dash to the end zone, cutting the deficit to 35-14 with 3:42 remaining. That would be the final score of the evening.

As a team, Mae Jemison went 0 for 6 through the air, but put up 255 yards rushing on 47 carries.

Gardendale was opportunistic on defense, forcing three fumbles and recovering two of them. Linebacker Nick Rigdon recovered a loose ball in the end zone in the fourth quarter and defensive back Kaniji Chandler gathered a Melo Collins strip in the second frame and ran it back for a would-be touchdown that was called back on a blocking penalty.

“That says something about our kids that they get a stop on the first drive, which was a long 10-play drive,” said Eads. “There were two series down there that could’ve made this game a lot different, but we created a turnover and got a stop.”

Gardendale quarterback Will “Goose” Crowder went 12 for 20 passing for 124 yards. The Rockets were called for seven penalties for 71 yards. Mae Jemison was flagged 15 times for 88 yards.

Gardendale will hit the road to Athens next week.

Erik Harris is the sports editor for The North Jefferson News. He can be reached at sports@njeffersonnews.com

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