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James Kenan running toward state title shot


Marcelias Sutton carries the ball as Wallace-Rose Hill High School hosts James Kenan's football team Friday Oct. 26, 2012. (Photo by StarNews file photo)


The James Kenan football team is trying to run its way to a state championship.

 

The Tigers have perhaps the most powerful ground game in the area, and they'll get to showcase it again Friday against Southwest Onslow in the Class 1AA state semifinals. 

"We're going to have to play our best game on Friday," James Kenan coach Ken Avent Jr. said.

For the Tigers, that means a whole lot of running; James Kenan has thrown only 38 passes the entire season on their way to a 13-0 record.

In 2011, James Kenan transformed from a pass-first team to a triple-option team when an injury grounded its starting quarterback. The midseason switch worked so well – James Kenan won seven of its last nine games and finished second in the Tri-County Conference – that the Tigers stuck with the run.

This year, the James Kenan took things one step further by unseating county rival Wallace-Rose Hill for the conference title.

Avent lists a number of reasons for the success, but chief among them are an experienced offensive line and a set of talented underclassmen. The seniors open holes, and the juniors blow through them.

Nobody's done that more effectively than Marcelias Sutton. As a sophomore in 2011, Sutton topped 1,000 yards rushing. This year he has 1,753 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground – an average of 134 yards per game.

"He's very talented," Avent said. "His work ethic is as good as we've ever had with everything he worked on this summer. He worked on getting faster and stronger."

Teams have reacted by stacking eight and nine men near the line of scrimmage, only to find themselves looking backward. James Kenan has a touchdown run of 30 yards or more in every game except one this season. Sutton has four touchdowns from 50 or more yards.

"The speed of our backs is a big key to that," Avent said. "Once they get through the line there's only one or two defenders back there. That's where the big runs have come from so far."

Avent believed Southwest Onslow will probably be prepared for his team's speed but that the Tigers are ready to take their place among the best programs in the state.

"They've won three state championships," Avent said of Southwest Onslow. "But we'd like to get two or three ourselves."

 

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