11/26/06 — High School football: Top-seeded James Kenan gets a helping Hand

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High School football: Top-seeded James Kenan gets a helping Hand

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 26, 2006 2:02 AM

WARSAW -- James Kenan used its good "Hands" to eliminate upset-minded Pender County from the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 1-AA (large-school) playoffs on Friday evening.

Darius Hand caught his first-ever career touchdown pass and the Tiger defense held firm in a 7-0 victory before some 2,000-plus fans at Bill Taylor Field. James Kenan, the east's No. 1 seed, advanced to its first eastern championship game since 1990 and entertains East Bladen this Friday.

Pender concluded the year 9-5.

While chatting with some booster club members and dining on a slice of pizza, first-year Kenan coach Ken Avent Jr. admitted Hand's second-quarter reception couldn't have been scripted any better.

The Tiger offensive line pulled the Patriots toward the right side of the field once Jones took the snap. He tucked the ball to his side, rolled left and found Hand wide open behind the Pender defense.

Hand had a 10-yard advantage on his nearest defender and easily trotted into the end zone for the score. Juan Vasquez booted the PAT and Kenan held its one-touchdown advantage with 10 minutes remaining before halftime.

"There was nothing fancy about it," said a smiling Avent.

It was Jones' second touchdown pass of the postseason.

"We had one breakdown where we didn't read the coverage," said Pender coach Tom Eanes. "Their offensive line popped up and showed pass. The kid was 10 yards behind us before the rest of us knew what was happening.

"It was a human mistake and they capitalized on it. Our defense played well, but we couldn't muster up enough offense against their defense."

James Kenan (14-0) limited Pender tailback James Henry to a hard-earned 60 yards on 17 carries. Henry had rambled for more than 400 yards and six touchdowns in his first two playoff outings.

The Patriots ran 46 offensive plays and averaged just 2.6 yards per down. They collected six first downs and punted on six of their nine possessions. Jamian Smith's interception stopped one drive and time ran out on Pender's final possession of the opening half.

Keon Wilson emerged the Tigers' top tackler with eight solo stops and four assists. Alex Flores provided six tackles and eight assists. Akeem Faison notched a game-high nine assists to go along with two solo hits. Josh Hicks delivered four tackles and eight assists.

The Tigers pitched their first postseason shutout since 1997 and just their third overall since 1980.

"They did a super job defensing us and we didn't have a few more weapons to throw at them," said Eanes. "I didn't think we blocked extremely well, but we were playing a very good football team, too."

Controversial calls negated touchdowns for each team.

Pender forced two first-quarter fumbles, including one near midfield on James Kenan's second possession. Outside linebacker Lee Bain picked up the loose ball and headed toward the end zone, but an inadvertent whistle blew the play dead.

"We had possession when they blew the whistle, so in turn, it stayed with us," said Eanes. "But because they blew the whistle, it was dead. Everything I've ever heard, and thank goodness they didn't do it, was on an inadvertent whistle you play the down over.

"They didn't do that."

Kenan defensive back Jamian Smith had a 38-yard interception return called back because of defensive pass interference -- on a tipped ball. However, the side judge -- on Pender's side of the field -- ruled Smith had leapt over a Patriot receiver to grab the ball and threw the flag.

The Tigers failed to convert three possessions inside Patriot territory. Pender made a goal-line stand just seconds before halftime and turned back Kenan twice inside their 35-yard line in the second half.

"We moved the ball, but they were good defensively," said Avent Jr. "A couple of those turnovers and not scoring before the half hurt us. The second half we didn't want to throw it a whole lot because we had a seven-point lead and our defense was playing good.

"Our defense has been playing like that all year and that's why we're where we're at right now. Every game they've played good. What more can you say?'

Notes: James Kenan equaled the school record for wins a season with 14. ... The Tigers are making just their third appearance in an eastern final in school history. ... Kenan accumulated 295 yards of total offense -- 162 rushing and 133 passing. ... Opponents have scored just two touchdowns against the Tigers in three playoff games -- a span of 12 quarters.