No. 5 Warren Easton scored 27 points last week to pull out a one-point win over McDonogh No. 35.
It sent the Eagles the semifinals and into a rematch of last year’s Class 4A state championship against Neville, where 27 points turned out to be one point shy of sending the game into overtime and a possible chance at the title.
Warren Easton returned to the field against Neville Friday night in Monroe, and like last year came in as the No. 5 seed of the 4A bracket. The Tigers on the other hand were not No. 2 like they were a year ago. Instead, Neville boasted the top seed to go with its 12-0 record and a 24-game winning streak, dating back to Week 2 of last year to also stand as the best win streak in the state in any division.
With all that said, Warren Easton knew it likely had to play perfect to stand a chance and had to do it on the road with a trip back to the Louisiana Superdome on the line. It was nowhere near perfect, but the Eagles stayed close with the top seed but eventually fell 44-36.
Three flags on the opening kickoff were not a good omen, with one coming on a sideline warning for the Eagles. Add that to an interception at their own 10-yard line, three failed fourth down conversions in the red zone and 20 penalties for 152 yards and Warren Easton appeared doomed in several situations.
“The LHSAA promotes that. They don’t have any accountability when it comes to referees,” Warren Easton head coach Antonio Hull said. “So it’s something we just have to deal with. Big time programs get the benefit of the doubt, and we’re just going to have to continue to suffer.”
The Eagles (12-2) forced Neville into some unlikely penalties and mistakes of its own, though, and kept the game within two scores or less until midway through the third quarter when the Tigers started to pull away with back-to-back touchdowns. Warren Easton could not answer, though the offense came close with a few big drives that ended with a turnover on downs or a costly penalty, like the offsides penalty on a fourth-and-goal situation late in the second half.
“It (the game) never got away from us,” Hull said. “We got the ball in the redzone three times and didn’t score – inside the 5 – so any time you do that against a great team you can’t beat them.”
Neville (13-0) struck first on its first possession of the game. Junior Corey Straughter returned the Warren Easton punt 44 yards to the Eagle 21-yard line to set up a 9-yard touchdown run by Josh Diarse two plays later.
Warren Easton did not seem fazed though with the offense stringing together a 65-yard scoring drive on seven plays, capped off by a one-yard keeper by quarterback Tyriek Starks.
Neville quarterback Jaiden Cole matched his counterpart and then some with back to back touchdowns, first from 16 yards out then a 5-yard run for a 20-7 lead to start the second quarter.
“Two scores has never been a big lead for us,” Hull said. “We’ve always been able to come back from that, but we didn’t execute in the red zone. The defense played good despite the score … we just got in the red zone 3 times and didn’t score.”
Senior receiver Clyde Chriss provided the biggest spark of the night for the Eagles when he returned a Neville kickoff 99 yards to give Warren Easton its smallest deficit of the game 27-21 with 10:09 to play in the third quarter, highlighting why he is one of the top recruits in the state.
Cole left the game around the same time with an ankle injury and remained on the Neville sideline the remainder of the night. Backup and senior quarterback Chris Haynes did not seem to miss a beat though, putting the Tigers back up by two touchdowns with a 20-yard pass to Cole McCarty, following a 4-yard touchdown run by Donald Jenkins earlier in the quarter.
The Eagles would punch in the final score of the night on a 1-yard run by Starks, but it came with only 1:07 remaining in the game. By then, Neville already had started celebrating its return trip to the Class 4A state championship, where the top seed will meet Edna Karr, who defeated Franklinton 34-21.