11/29/07 — Patriots, Henry return to Warsaw

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Patriots, Henry return to Warsaw

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 29, 2007 1:49 PM

WARSAW -- It's a seductive line of reasoning, one that many fired up James Kenan football fans are eagerly embracing.

If Ken Avent Jr. could lead a junior-laden team to a state runner-up appearance during his first season in Warsaw, just imagine what he'd be able to do in his second year. With players a year older and more experience in his system, a roster flushed with talent should produce.

And it has.

Avent Jr. led the Tigers to their second straight Class 1-A Super Six Conference crown and another unbeaten campaign in regular-season play.

But what's really fresh on the minds of James Kenan fans and the players, though, is the way 2006 ended. The Tigers lost in the 1-AA championship game to perennial power Thomasville, and it's been their goal since that night to return and finish business.

Pender is the next hurdle.

The teams met a year ago in the eastern semifinals with the Tigers escaping 7-0 on Darius Hand's touchdown reception from Shawn Jones. This time, however, they're battling for the right to play in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1-AA (large school) title game on Dec. 8 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.

James Kenan (14-0 overall) has already beaten the fourth-seeded Patriots once this season.

"We've already talked about it," said Avent Jr. "They know Pender is a good team and the game was closer, really, than the final score. They remember Pender playing a very physical style."

Led by heralded running back James Henry, the Patriots (10-4) have rolled through the playoffs. They've outscored three opponents 95-12 and surrendered just one touchdown defensively in the last eight quarters of play.

Facing Pender's wing-bone offense once definitely helps the Tigers. Avent Jr. expects to see some new wrinkles, and hopes he and his staff have adjusted accordingly.

"Defensively, we have to stop the option," said Avent Jr. "The quarterback and Henry are both good, and they run well. I think they're better now and the quarterback is running much more than he did the first time.

"They've got a few more weapons ... definitely playing good football right now."

The Patriots face a Tiger defense that's been equally close-fisted in the postseason. Kenan has yielded just three touchdowns and received great play from three defensive standouts -- linebackers Alex Monk and Josh Hicks, and noseguard Derrick Barden.

Hicks recorded eight tackles, six assists and returned a fumble 87 yards for a touchdown against East Bladen last week. Monk provided six tackles, 10 assists and also recovered a fumble.

Overall, the Tiger defense coerced East Bladen into five turnovers.

"Defense is definitely our strength," said Avent Jr. "We've got a lot of team speed over there and they love to play defense ... enthusiastic and very talented. Monk and Hicks both make a lot of plays and Barden has had an unbelievable year.

"He's been a big key for us."

Avent Jr. has been pleased with his team's ability to keep its composure throughout the season. He added that the Tigers' focus against East Bladen was superb and the same mentality is needed against Pender, which is making its first-ever appearance in a regional championship game.

James Kenan is making its second straight trip to the regional final and third overall since 1990.

"If we do what we're supposed to do, we have a good shot," said Avent Jr. who is 29-1 as the Tigers' coach. "If we don't, it's going to be tough to get back (to the state final). If we can continue to do what we've been doing, I can be satisfied one way or the other as long as we play good."