In a contest that started with an offensive surge, it was defense and special teams that proved to be the deciding factor in University High’s 19-6 victory against Southern Lab on Friday night.
It was a dire situation early for the Cubs.
After a holding call, a false start and a sack on the first three plays of the game, University High needed a spark to climb from a second down and a mile. Coach Chad Mahaffey had a simple plan: Give the ball to senior running back Nick Brossette.
Brossette delivered. He pounded through a hole in the Cubs offensive line and burst into the secondary, flying past the Kittens safeties and sprinting 65 yards for the score.
It took only one drive for the Kittens to respond.
With 6-foot-5, 205-pound junior Bladrick Veal under center, Southern Lab roared back. Veal’s first pass connected with receiver Tevis Abraham for a 15-yard gain.
But after his team stalled in the red zone, coach Nick Mitchell called for Veal to convert on fourth-and-12. Veal proceeded to throw a strike to sophomore wideout Xavier Bell in the back of the end zone, tying the score at 6.
That was all both teams could muster before the halftime whistle sounded.
In the second quarter, the Cubs and Kittens offenses struggled to move the ball downfield, and the frustration in both squads became evident.
With roughly 9:45 left in the second quarter, both Brossette and Southern Lab defender Karl Patrick Auzenne were ejected after an altercation in the backfield.
“They said both of them threw a punch,” Mahaffey said. “I didn’t see it, so I don’t know what happened.”
Brossette, who is a 2015 LSU commit ranked the No. 8 running back in the country by ESPN.com, was a force in the backfield throughout the first quarter, finishing his night with 74 yards on six carries.
With both squads sputtering on offense in the second half, junior Tre Jackson took the game into his own hands.
With 3:50 remaining in the third quarter and both teams continuing to sputter on offense, University High received a much-needed charge from its special teams unit.
Jackson fielded a punt and juked his way to the Southern Lab 5-yard line. Moments later, sophomore running back Titus Nelson, who replaced Brossette as the starter, rumbled into the end zone for a 2-yard score, giving the Cubs a 12-6 lead.
“We work on punt returns and punt team every single day,” Mitchell said. “But when you’re playing against good teams, you’ve got to play them for four straight quarters. They did what they needed to do, even without their better players.”
The Cubs defense stayed dominant heading into the fourth quarter, backing up the Kittens into their own end zone.
Then Jackson struck again: He picked off Veal and scored from 35 yards to give University High an 18-6 lead.
“We talked about all our guys having to be ready,” Mahaffey said. “With our numbers, everyone has a role to play throughout the week. I’m proud of those guys … and they did a good job of fighting tonight.”