09/16/12 — Defense, special teams spark James Kenan

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Defense, special teams spark James Kenan

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on September 16, 2012 1:52 AM

WARSAW -- James Kenan head football coach Ken Avent Jr. had been barking in practice all week about winning the turnover battle every Friday night this fall.

The message didn't fall on deaf ears.

On a night when its patchwork offense struggled inside the red zone, James Kenan's defense and special teams came to the rescue at Bill Taylor Field. The two units produced five second-half turnovers, which led to five touchdowns and an eventual 44-6 thrashing of Union in the Tri-County 1-A Conference opener for both teams.

"We had some good hits tonight, a good physical game for us and we needed to do that," Kenan defensive coordinator John Avent said. "Ken has been talking about winning the turnover battle and we did that tonight, forced several fumbles and hopefully we'll see more than that, our defense just has to keep getting better and better."

The defense was near perfect.

James Kenan, ranked No. 2 in the latest Associated Press Class 1-A media poll, coerced Union into four turnovers on nine offensive possessions. Those four miscues led to 24 points.

"That's just awesome," Avent said.

Marcelias Sutton's 85-yard, first-quarter kickoff return and two special-teams fumble recoveries that led to scores helped account for the Tigers' highest offensive output of the season.

"We had some guys step up and play tonight that normally don't play and that was big," Avent said. "We had people playing different spots all the way around. We settled in (after Union's first TD) and learned we can't come out flat for anybody because we've got some teams in our conference who can play."

The defense and special teams bailed out an offense that missed three starters -- starting back Ja'Quan Williams, tight end Alton Miles and senior lineman Jaylan Williams. The absences forced Avent Jr. and his staff to piece together a unit that moved the ball, but stalled in the red zone.

The Tigers had two possessions end on downs at the Spartans' 17- and 19-yard lines, respectively, in the second quarter. Sutton's four-yard touchdown scamper capped Kenan's lone red-zone possession in the third period.

"We were scratching our heads, were in a bind," Avent Jr. "I was proud of them for surviving."

Sutton led all rushers with 106 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries. Back-up quarterback Greg Washington contributed 55 yards and a touchdown.

James Kenan (4-0 overall, 1-0 TCC) matched its best start since 2007 when it won the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 1-AA state championship in Avent Jr.'s second season. The Tigers improved to 47-20 against Sampson County teams since 1993.