Neville High School coach Mickey McCarty had his team “reach into a potpourri” of defenses for the Tigers to win their third state championship in the past six years.
After falling behind 13-0 in the first quarter, Neville made some adjustments to its 3-4 defense, pulled out to a 28-13 lead and then withheld a frantic Easton rally in the final five minutes for a 28-27 win in the Class 4A Allstate Sugar Bowl Prep Classic at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Neville (13-1) won the state title without relying on its standard 4-2 defense while facing a Warren Easton offense averaging 45 points per game under the guidance of quarterback Deshawn Capers-Smith, Louisiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
Easton’s receivers routinely turn short gains into much longer ones, which was part of Neville’s adjustment.
“We call it Panther,” Neville defensive coordinator Benjy Lewis said of the 3-4 alignment that showed only three linemen and two linebackers in the middle of the field. “With the number of excellent athletes they had on offense, we knew we’d leave ourselves exposed a little in the middle on the quarterback runs, but we felt like we had to have that extra player on the outside to help with those receivers. That is a great offensive team.”
When Easton jumped out to its 13-0 lead, the Tigers secondary played soft on the Eagles receivers. In the second quarter, they showed a “press alignment” on the wide men, playing closer to the line.
Meanwhile, the Neville front was able to apply constant pressure on Capers-Smith, racking up five sacks, forcing a number of rushed throws, and even creating a first-quarter fumble near the sideline.
“Their outside blitzes also gave us problems,” Capers-Smith said.
Defensive end Donald Lewis (one sack) and tackle Rashad Lawrence (two sacks) stood out.
“We knew we had to run sideline to sideline against these guys,” Lewis said.
In the pivotal second quarter, Neville was able to stop Easton’s underneath routes that typically started with short passes to receivers cutting under the defense.
“I just started following the guard wherever he went,” Lawrence said. “We were able to get there a little faster.”
McCarty said he was pleased with the way his defense played “as a unit.”
“We had to go to a potpourri (of defenses) against some exceptional athletes,” McCarty said. “We were going to keep turning pages until we found something that might slow them down.”
In the end it was a blocked extra point by T.J. Lemoine that provided the difference, although Neville had a 28-13 lead with 5:02 left to play.
“I missed a tackle on (Easton’s second) touchdown and I was angry with myself,” Lemoine said. He turned to one of his teammates and said “You take the (blocker), I’m going to block this kick.”
Neville’s Corey Straughter and Alex Varytimidis had to recover on-sides kicks to preserve the win.
Warren Easton coach Tony Hull suggested Neville’s playoff experience might have been the difference.
“They made plays when they had to,” Hull said. “They’ve been (in the playoffs) the last six years.
“They haven’t lost to a team from Louisiana this year. We knew we weren’t going to score 50 points tonight.”