Barnes, Saenz to square off again

Henderson's Del Barnes (left) and Chapel Hill's Avery Saenz will face off under center for the Blue and Red teams, respectively, on Saturday at the FCA Heart of a Champion Bowl in Longview. (Herb Nygren Jr. | Tyler Morning Telegraph)

Two years ago, Henderson’s Del Barnes and Chapel Hill’s Avery Saenz met as opponents in the Class 3A Division I championship game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

In a classic matchup of standout quarterbacks that went down to the wire, Barnes led his Lions past Saenz and the Bulldogs for the first state title in program history.

Prior to last season, Barnes and Saenz were featured on the cover of Tyler Morning Telegraph’s football preview with photographs taken last summer at Cowboys Stadium. The general consensus was that Chapel Hill and Henderson would collide in the title game once more, evidenced by the teams being ranked atop the state preseason polls.

Although the Lions were eliminated from the postseason prior to the anticipated rematch, Chapel Hill completed an unbeaten run by capturing its first state championship since 1989. And just like Barnes the year before, Saenz turned in an MVP performance.

On Thursday afternoon, Barnes and Saenz were together as opposing quarterbacks during the media day for the Second Annual Fellowship of Christian Athletes Heart of Champion Bowl. Saenz will guide the Red Team and Barnes will pilot the Blue Team in the all-star football game, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Longview High School’s Lobo Stadium.

“I just know it’s going to be a competitive game,” said Barnes, whose teammates behind center will be Whitehouse’s Hunter Taylor and Kilgore’s Riley Toler. “We’ve always been on different sidelines, but I think that’s helped us grow as players — getting used to the competitive nature we are going to have to compete with in college and when we get out into life.”

Said Saenz, who will split time with Paris’ Corban Taylor and Sulphur Springs’ Justin Owens: “We are friends off the field and talk to each other. It hasn’t played a big part, but it’s fitting that we are from rival schools and will be rivals in this game. I like it like that. It’s competition and having someone on the other side that you know keeps you driven.”

Barnes, who is set to play Ivy League football for Cornell next fall, led Henderson past Chapel Hill 28-21 in the 2010 championship game. The first-year starter played with a cast on his non-throwing hand after suffering a broken wrist in the semifinals, but was named Offensive MVP after completing 18 of 23 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns.

This past fall, Barnes enjoyed another memorable campaign while passing for 2,464 yards and 30 touchdowns in the regular season en route to helping Henderson return to the state semifinals. The run ended there, however, because of a 34-13 loss to Alvarado — the same team the Lions beat in the 2010 semifinals.

“I think he’s a great player and a great competitor,” said Saenz, who is signed to play at Tyler Junior College. “I know he’s going to bring his A game and I’m going to bring my A game. It’s going to be a great competition.”

Saenz, meanwhile, rebounded from the loss to Henderson and started the 2011 season strong for top-ranked Chapel Hill — passing for more than 700 yards through the first two games. He suffered a broken ankle and missed most of the regular season, though — but returned to the lineup in time for the playoffs and never looked back.

And just like Barnes, Saenz didn’t let a serious injury get in the way of winning it all. On the contrary, Saenz passed for two touchdowns to earn Offensive MVP honors in Chapel Hill’s 20-19 victory against Alvarado in the title game at Cowboys Stadium.

“He’s a great guy,” Barnes said. “He’s a great competitor and great person to compare me to. He has great character and I don’t mind being compared to him.”


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