ELIZABETHTOWN — With temperatures expected to be in the low 50s by kickoff on Friday at Lenon Fisher Stadium, East Bladen will square off against James Kenan in the first round of the NCHSAA Clas 2-A playoffs — and Eagles coach Robby Priest knows the Tigers won’t be the typical opening-game pushover.
“They played in a tough conference against playoff teams like East Duplin, Wallace-Rose Hill and Clinton — so they are battle tested,” Priest said. “And they have a lot more speed and athletes than we do.”
James Kenan, however, lost to those three conference opponents by a combined 182-29. In a strange scheduling twist, the Tigers faced Wallace-Rose Hill twice, losing in the season-opening non-conference game 50-0, then losing to the Bulldogs in a conference game, 34-10.
The two teams have one common opponent this season: East Bladen also faced former conference foe Clinton in a non-conference tilt early in the season, beating the Dark Horses 35-16. James Kenan fell to Clinton in conference play, 49-12.
But Priest knows his Eagles will have their hands full.
The Tigers operate the offense out of a spread formation, with quarterback John Thomas Avent at the controls.
“They like to get you spread out all over the field and run the ball,” Priest said.
Toting the ball for Kenan will be speedy running back Treshawn Savage, primarily behind the blocking of big fullback Jibril Johnson, who is 6-0, 240. Running back Rasheed Simmons will also get some carries and, when the Tigers put the ball in the air, it’s often wide receiver Jalen Faison who is running under it.
“We can’t let (Savage) or (Deandre Burgess) get loose on us,” Priest said. “They can be big-play playmakers.”
The Tigers have scored 243 points over their 10 games this season.
On defense, James Kenan will usually show a 52 and are accustomed to facing a Wing-T offense like the Eagles use. Leaders on the defense are Johnson on the line, Savage at linebacker, Burgess at free safety, Dontae Miller at defensive end and Donte Leggette at cornerback.
But the Tigers also have some size along the line — including Daeshawn Dixon at 6-4, 310; George Garner at 5-10, 275; and David Melendez at 5-11, 260.
The Kenan defense has allowed 315 points this season.
“We can’t have any turnovers or stupid penalties on offense,” Priest said. “On defense, we have to contain them and not allow any big plays.
“Overall, we just have to focus, execute and finish drives,” he added. “And, we need to win special teams play.”
Overall, the Eagles and Tigers are knotted at 2-2 all-time, but East Bladen won the last meeting in September 2010 by a 49-35 margin.
Friday’s kickoff will be at 7:30 p.m. and admission for the playoffs has been bumped to $7. It will also be Veteran’s Night, and all military veterans will be recognized at halftime on the 50-yard-line.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or email@example.com.