That’s how long Warren Easton has gone without a title, and that’s how close the Eagles were to ending their championship drought Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Instead, Easton let an early lead slip away and saw a late rally come up short in its 28-27 loss to perennial power Neville in the Class 4A state championship game.
“Our process works to get us to this point,” Easton coach Tony Hull said. “We just have to find a way to take it to the next level. If that’s possible, we’ll see. A loss like this deflates you. But the one thing we always talk about is as men, when you get down, you have to get back up. We have to keep working.”
The Eagles, seeking the school’s third state title but first since 1942, finished 12-3.
Hull, who resurrected the downtrodden program, put much of the blame on himself.
“The kids did great,” said Hull, in his eighth season on Canal Street. “They did exactly what they were supposed to do. I have to do a better job of preparing the guys on this stage. These guys fought their tails off. We have to get back to the laboratory and figure this out.”
Neville (13-1), meanwhile, claimed its 11th state title and first since 2011, while ending its New Orleans area jinx the past two years.
The Tigers lost to Karr in the Dome in 2012 and fell to East Jefferson in the semifinals last year.
But they weren’t going to be denied this time around.
After falling behind 13-0 early, Neville scored 28 unanswered points to claim its third title in six years.
“I’m extremely proud of our resiliency,” Neville coach Mickey McCarty said. “We got down early to a really good team. We had the chin of a champion. We took some licks and were close to going down, but we never did. We kept battling until the end.”
And they had to.
Easton managed to score two touchdowns in the final three minutes to make it close, but Neville recovered an outside kick with 1:04 left to seal it.
It was all Easton early.
Darrell Clark jump-started the Eagles with a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown that gave the Eagles a 7-0 lead with 6:50 left in the first quarter. The Eagles added to the lead late in the first quarter when Deshawn Capers-Smith connected with Darren Holmes, who outran the Neville defense for a 43-yard touchdown. Neville blocked the extra point, which would prove to be big later.
While Easton featured Louisiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year in Capers-Smith and the nation’s top receiver recruit in Tyron Johnson, Neville countered with the electrifying Kavonte Turpin. The 5-foot-8, 150-pound dynamo scored three of the game’s next four touchdowns as the Tigers stormed back.
He had a highlight-reel grab to set up the Tigers’ first score, outleaping a defender for a 35-yard gain. He scored two plays later on a 1-yard run.
On the first play of the next possession, Turpin took a handoff on a reverse and took it 63 yards for a score to give Neville its first lead at 14-13 with 4:55 left in the half.
“What you can’t measure about athletes is their heart,” McCarty said of Turpin. “He has the heart the size of Texas.”
Turpin finished with 103 rushing yards and 72 receiving yards to earn Most Outstanding Player honors. His 37-yard touchdown reception from J.T. Jackson with 5:37 left put Neville up 28-13.
Capers-Smith tried to mount a comeback — similar to the one the Eagles had last week against Plaquemine in the semifinals.
“We left it all on the field today,” said Capers-Smith, who completed 29 of 41 passes for 292 yards and three TDs.
He tossed a touchdown pass to Clark with 3:22 left that cut it to 28-19. The Eagles had a high snap on the extra point that would have made it a one-possession game. Instead, they were down nine.
Capers-Smith, a Texas A&M commitment who was named his team’s Most Outstanding Player, connected with Clark again with 1:06 left, but it was too little, too late.
Clark finished with eight catches for 57 yards, while Johnson had 11 catches for 95 yards.
“It was a great season,” Johnson said. “We were prepared, but we just came up short.”