09/11/08 — James Kenan set to battle Pender

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James Kenan set to battle Pender

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on September 11, 2008 1:10 PM

WARSAW -- Maybe not this week or the next, but James Kenan head football coach Ken Avent Jr. knows eventually the turnovers are going to hurt.

Miscues have plagued the defending N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 1-AA (large-school) state champions this season. And takeaways have been very few.

During their state title run a season ago, the Tigers forced 47 turnovers and committed just 19. So far this year, James Kenan (3-0 overall) has coughed the ball up eight times while forcing just four turnovers.

That trend must change.

"We're turning the ball over way too much," said Avent Jr. "We have to do a better job with turnovers and create more opportunities. We lost seven starters on defense and we've given up some points. We're just really trying to figure everything out right now.

"We've been working in practice on creating turnovers. We can't keep (turning the ball over) like that and expect to keep winning."

Offensively, the No. 1-ranked Tigers appear to have not missed a beat with the departure of 1,400-yard passer Shawn Jones. Shawon Darden has taken over the quarterback duties in an offense that averages 29 points a game this season. Darden is the area's top passer with 492 yards and seven touchdowns in three starts.

"Shawon's done a great job," said Avent Jr. "He's thrown the ball well and run the ball well. He had a couple of interceptions against Ayden-Grifton, but we're just hoping we don't get satisfied with where we are offensively."

James Kenan's offense may face its stiffest test thus far this season when it welcomes Pender (1-2) to Bill Taylor Field on Friday evening. The Patriots held the Tigers to just 116 yards of total offense and Kenan went 2-for-10 on third-down conversions in last year's 1-AA semifinals in Warsaw.

A blocked punt returned for a touchdown and a key interception guided the Tigers to a 28-0 win.

"We were up 14-0 at halftime in the semifinals last year and I think we had 10 yards of offense," said Avent Jr. "Pender always plays strong defense. It's going to be a definite, definite challenge for our offense. We're going to have to establish some kind of running game and hold onto the ball."

Pender enters Friday night's contest having lost its last two ballgames to Topsail and East Duplin by a combined 35 points. However, the return of junior quarterback Hynef Collins from injury could energize an option-oriented offense that's mustered just 13 points the last two weeks.

With dreams of capturing a second straight state title, Avent Jr. hopes to know a lot more about his squad following the Pender game, while preparing it for the completely different environment that is playoff football.

"The last two years we've played Pender in the third and the fourth round of the playoffs," said Avent Jr. "It gives you a taste early in the year what it will be like during conference and playoff time. We play a tough conference and non-conference schedule, and it shows you your weaknesses early in the year so you have time to start working on that kind of stuff."