There were times Saturday when Karr didn’t quite look like Karr. Unfortunately for the Cougars, Neville was still the same ole Neville.
Karr saw its season come to a disappointing end at the hands of nemesis Neville for the second straight season, this time a 45-26 loss in the Class 4A nonselect title game of the Allstate Sugar Bowl Prep Classic in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Cougars (9-5) lost to the Tigers in the quarterfinals last year.
“It’s frustrating losing to the same team twice,” Karr quarterback Aldon Clark said.
Neville won its second straight title and fourth in the past seven years. It was the 26th straight victory for Neville dating to last season.
“Coach always says the hardest thing about being a champion is staying the champions,” Neville running back Josh Diarse said.
It was Diarse doing much of the damage. The junior finished with 266 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. His 74 yarder with 5:23 left was the back breaker for Neville; it sent the Tigers’ lead to 38-20.
“We studied film hard, and we knew everything they were going to do,” Karr defensive end Andre Anthony said. “We studied film hard and practiced hard. It was just missed tackles and missed opportunities that made them look good. If we didn’t have those mistakes, we feel we would have won.”
Karr stayed within striking distance for a half, trailing 21-14 at the intermission. The Cougars held the Tigers to a field goal on the first drive of the second half, then cut it to 24-20 on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Clark to Colby Jefferson.
But on Karr’s next possession, the Cougars had a slew of dropped passes, which became a bit of a theme over the final two quarters.
“That was very uncharacteristic of our offense,” said Karr’s Brice Brown, in his first season as head coach at his alma mater.
Neville made Karr pay in the fourth quarter. Diarse broke off a pair of touchdowns, one for 21 yards and then the back-breaking 74-yarder.
“They didn’t do anything we hadn’t prepared for,” Brown said. “Just too many mistakes and too many opportunities and, (against) a good Neville team, you can’t let that happen.”
Clark, a junior, was named Most Outstanding Player for the Cougars. He completed 25 of 55 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough. He also threw a pair of interceptions.
“(Clark) is a tremendous player, and they have some great wide receivers,” Neville coach Mickey McCarty said. “They dropped a lot of balls tonight that could have been big plays. Credit to my defensive kids for keep fighting and fighting. It’s about finding a away to win. It wasn’t the prettiest of wins.”
But it was a win, Neville’s second straight against a New Orleans team in the Dome after it beat Warren Easton in last year’s title game.
It was also the third championship game in five years between Karr and Neville. Karr won 29-22 in 2012, avenging a 27-6 loss in 2011.
Brown, who was Karr’s offensive coordinator for 10 years before taking over as head coach, has been around for all three of the Karr-Neville title games.
“One of their best things is playing with consistency,” he said. “They play for four quarters the same way. That’s something we can learn from.”
Karr got off to a blazing start, needing less than two minutes to take an early lead. Clark drove the Cougars 80 yards in just six plays, capping the drive with a 2-yard pass to Tyrin Ralph. Neville answered, but Ralph helped Karr regain the lead by juking his way into the end zone from 17 yards with 9:34 left in the second quarter.
Clark’s other touchdown went to Diamante Woolridge.
The Karr loss snapped the Cougars’ five-game winning streak after the team rebounded from losing its first three games.
“I’m still proud of the guys on how they rebounded from that 0-3 start,” Brown said. “I think the lesson that has been learned this season is to just not give up. ... We’ll be back.”