Not a day goes by that Warren Easton’s championship game loss to Neville doesn’t replay in coach Tony Hull’s memory.
That 28-27 loss in the Superdome last December caused a shakeup inside the Easton football program. The Eagles needed to reshape their team in a mold that could go toe-to-toe with the Class 4A champions.
In what can only be described as fitting, No. 5 Easton (12-1) will see top-ranked Neville (12-0) with a trip to the Dome hanging in the balance.
Nearly one calendar year removed from that 2014 championship game loss, Hull and his Eagles have refused to let go of the pain.
“Personally, every day I think about that game,” Hull said. “We didn’t execute. I did some things I didn’t do all year that got us behind in the game, and I remember getting out-coached.”
“I just remember Neville coming out on top,” said receiver Clyde Chriss, who watched from the sidelines with a torn meniscus. “It hurt our seniors. They came up one point short. It hurt everybody. It was just heartbreaking.”
Hull, the architect of one of New Orleans’ most successful teams the past three years, boasts a 34-7 record over that span, including a 9-2 mark in the playoffs.
After being “outcoached” by Neville’s Mickey McCarty, Hull returned to the drawing board and re-assembled his team in a way that it could shine in all three phases of the game.
The results: Easton has won 11 consecutive games and 12 of 13 since losing to Neville and is back in the semifinals against an all-too-familiar foe.
These Eagles have a rare opportunity, and they’re eager to seize it.
“It’s a blessing,” Hull said. “That loss hurt really bad. It put a lot of our coaches and players in a negative place. The opportunity to come back and right your wrongs is nothing but a blessing.”
“You don’t get many chances to right your wrongs,” said Chriss. “So when you do, you got to take advantage. I feel like my team is ready to take advantage of our opportunities.”
The second meeting between these 4A powers will feature no shortage of emotion, particularly from the visitors’ sidelines.
Ready for redemption, Hull credits McCarty for Easton’s success this season, but will look to flip the script when these teams clash with a trip back to the Superdome on the line.
“What we’ve done this offseason is because of what happened against Neville,” Hull said. “We applied those principles and put together a decent team. My hats off to Neville because they enlightened me as a coach about things we needed to get better at.
“We compete in all three phases. They do the exact the same thing. It’s a heavyweight, knockdown, drag-down fight. It’ll come down to whoever is executing better that night.”
For Chriss, who had to watch as Easton’s season come to an end last year, the chance to be a difference-maker this go-round has been the ultimate motivation.
“It would mean the world to me,” he said of playing in the Dome. “This is my destiny. Teams don’t come together at the beginning of the season; they progress as the season goes on. Our team has grown enough to be ready for this moment.”