12/07/07 — Tigers return with relaxed minds

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Tigers return with relaxed minds

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on December 7, 2007 1:49 PM

WARSAW -- As James Kenan head coach Ken Avent Jr. sat down earlier this week to talk about his team's state championship game with West Montgomery scheduled for Saturday evening, he looked every a bit like a coach who was relaxed and knew what to expect on gameday.

Perhaps that's the affect the Tigers' 13-7 loss to Thomasville in their title-game appearance a year ago, a 15-0 record and knowing he'll bring 29 seniors with him to Chapel Hill this weekend has had on the second-year coach.

"I think last year was a big springboard into this season," Avent Jr. said. "Our guys kind of realize what it takes to get to the finals. We were close score wise to having a chance. It's been a big motivation for us to get back."

Kenan has provided Avent Jr. with plenty of reasons to be confident heading into the title game. The Tigers have matched last season's school single-season record 15 victories, they've put up 530 points on offense (35 per game) and opponents have averaged just seven points a contest against a swarming Kenan defense.

The offense returns four starters from last season's state-runner up squad, including senior tailbacks Brandon Satchell and Stedman Mathis. Satchell has rushed for over 1,600 yards to go with 20 touchdowns this season, while Mathis has accounted for nearly 900 yards and has 15 TDs to his credit.

Using the 3-5-3 formation and a wealth of team speed, the Tigers' defense returns three starters, has pitched four shutouts this season and given up just 19 points in four playoff appearances this year.

"I think our defense definitely carries us," Avent Jr. said. "It's definitely been our strong point."

The experience factor for Kenan is one that certainly can't be overlooked. The lessons learned from coming up short in last season's title game began paying dividends for both players and coaches in preseason workouts, and has carried on throughout the season.

Facing West Montgomery, which is making its first state championship appearance since 1975, the "having been there," advantage for James Kenan may be one that proves to be too valuable for a price tag.

"We've got 29 seniors and great leadership," Avent Jr. said. "I think last year helped the guys see that what we told them would pay off if they did it. I think they worked even harder in the offseason to get back. That was the goal at the beginning of the year to get to the state championship."

Third-year head coach Elbert Thomas has guided West Montgomery to a school-record 13 wins this season, and has the program back in the playoffs for the 23rd time in school history.

The Warriors' offense has re-written the school record books this season, setting new marks in total points scored (646/43.07 per game), team rushing yards (4,965/331 per game), total yards (5,718/381.2 per game) and first downs (194/12.9 per game). West Montgomery's three-headed monster backfield has tallied impressive numbers in it's Wing-T offense.

Senior Vince Jordan, a Shrine Bowl selection, has rushed for 1,007 yards and 12 touchdowns, while averaging over eight yards a carry. Junior Sean Little has amassed 1,063 yards and his 23 total touchdowns (15 rushing/2 receiving/2 interception returns) is a school record. Dominique Drake, also a junior, has 938 yards on the ground and 15 scores of his own.

"I'm just one that believes you're going to have to run that ball at this level," Thomas said. "We don't have the luxury of having a lot of great athletes come through our doors. We're a Wing-T team with a lot of misdirection."

West Montgomery has surrendered just over nine points a game on defense, has four shutouts and 47 takeaways to its credit. The Warriors' gave up more than 21 points just once this season in a 32-7 loss to Thomasville.

"They've got team speed, too," Avent Jr. said. "It's really going to kind of balance out. I think it will come down to special teams, and the team that makes the most mistakes. With two even teams like this, that's going to be a big key."