12/05/07 — North Duplin, James Kenan eyeing state titles

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North Duplin, James Kenan eyeing state titles

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on December 5, 2007 3:15 PM

CALYPSO -- The lingering image of North Duplin's 2006 football season, in which plenty of good things happened, was the final scene.

The Rebels advanced to the western regional final, but succumbed to eventual state champion Elkin. Two lost fumbles and failure to convert a fourth-and-1 play at the goal line proved critical.

"Last year is still disappointing because those seniors helped make us who we were," said second-year North Duplin head coach Hugh Martin. "We were able to take that next step without them, but would have loved to try it (win state title) with them last year. (The loss) still stings a little bit, but I'm happy for this group with what we've been able to accomplish."

Maturity and hours of offseason work strengthened North Duplin. With a strong nucleus of experienced -- and hungry -- seniors returning, Martin felt optimistic that his team could take a step beyond the previous season.

It did.

The Rebels dominated Lakewood and earned their first regional title since 1975. Now, they're seeking their first state crown since 1972.

North Duplin (14-0 overall) opposes eastern champion Plymouth (15-0) for the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 1-A (small school) crown on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.

"It's been a very emotional time for us because it's been a great community to be a part of," said Martin. "There are so many men I admired and grew up around would have loved to have seen this, and that makes it that much more special. Also being an alumnus of the school, it's kind of hard to put into words.

"This a special time for us and I'm glad to be part of it."

Fellow Duplin County member James Kenan (15-0) returns to complete some unfinished business and win the program's first state crown since 1960. The 1-AA (large school) runner-up to Thomasville a year ago, the No. 2-ranked Tigers face West Montgomery, which is making its first championship appearance since 1975.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Kenan Memorial Stadium on the University of North Carolina campus.

"We're excited to go play one more game," said Kenan head coach Ken Avent Jr., who has guided the Tigers to 30 victories against just one loss in two seasons.

Seven of the 16 teams vying for state titles bring unblemished ledgers to either Raleigh, Chapel Hill or Winston-Salem this weekend. The entire group of finalists have a combined record of 232-25.

Twice-beaten during regular-season play, perennial 4-A Charlotte Independence seeks an unprecedented eighth consecutive championship. Shelby is back to defend its 2-A crown and Western Alamance returns to the 3-A title game for the fourth straight year.

Plymouth, South Columbus (2-A), North Gaston (3-A) and Wilmington Hoggard (4-A) are making their first-ever trip to the state finals.

"When you're part of the super 16, it doesn't get any better than that," said Charlie Adams, executive director of the NCHSAA. "When you get to the final four in your classification, I think it speaks volumes about where you've come, what you've done and the kind of year you've had.

"It's an incredible experience (here). It's something that your communities will never forget. It's something your student body, athletes and coaches will look back at years later and say 'that was one of the greatest experiences that we had'."

Pre-sale tickets for the games are available at both schools for $9. Tickets on game day will cost an additional $1. Children under five receive free admission.