Neville defeated Karr in 2011 for the Class 4A state championship.
Karr returned the favor by defeating Neville in 2012 for the Class 4A title.
Last season, East Jefferson spoiled a potential trilogy by beating Neville in the semifinals before defeating Karr in the title game to take 2013’s 4A crown.
A few of the main characters have changed and the background won’t be the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this time around, but Neville and Karr matching up in a huge 4A playoff game has become more of a tradition these days than turkey and stuffing on Thanksgiving.
We will get to see just that, as Karr (9-3) and Neville (10-1) match up one more time with their seasons on the line Friday night at Behrman Stadium in a Class 4A quarterfinal playoff game.
Karr coach Nathaniel Jones said that it would be hard to consider schools that are 289 miles apart as “rivals”, but he said he has plenty of respect for everything the Neville program has accomplished over the past few seasons.
“I don’t know if you can necessarily call it a rivalry but don’t think we aren’t aware of their program and what they’re doing,” Jones said.
“They’ve had a tremendous amount of success and (Neville) coach (Mickey) McCarthy does a great job of coaching those guys up and getting them ready for big games.
“But we have to focus in on Karr, the same way I’m sure they feel they have to focus in on Neville. It just so happens that they are the next opponent, and we look forward to the opportunity.”
Karr came into the season losing 33 seniors from last year’s team — including Texas A&M wide receiver Devante “Speedy” Noil — and after early-season losses to St. Paul’s, John Curtis and Landry-Walker, many thought Karr’s reign as an elite 4A power may have come to an end.
Jones knew that the growth of sophomore quarterback Aldon Clark could be the key to his team returning to prominence, but he also knew Clark didn’t have the opportunity over the years with the presence of Noil and former Karr standout Kerry Taylor handling the bulk of the quarterback snaps.
But Clark matured and ended the year completing 92 of 175 passes for 1,304 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
“I think he’s grown; he’s been in some hostile environments. He just knows that he has to play smart,” Jones said. “The physical tools are there, as long as he plays smart, and we play smart as a team, we’ll be fine”
The culmination of Karr and Clark’s growth came on Nov. 7 against Warren Easton, who was coming off a huge win over Landry-Walker that put the Eagles in the driver’s seat (with a win over Karr) to take the District 9-4A crown outright.
Karr jumped out to an early lead on Easton and held on at the end to clinch a three-way tie for the District 9-4A title, and Clark was instrumental, completing 13 of 25 passes for 159 yards and three touchdowns. Talking to reporters after the game, the only word Jones continuously repeated to describe his team’s performance was “pride.”
“I think there are certain games that are ‘program wins’ that the history of your program helps you overcome adversity. It comes down to ‘Karr Pride,’ and that’s what that game came down to,” Jones said. “We take that mentality into our community, and the way we do things at school. It’s bigger than football, and I think that pride that we have in our program stood out in that game and was a big reason we got the win.”
Removing four letters from “Karr Pride”, the Karr “D” has been a major reason why the Cougars are on a six-game winning streak.
They’ve held opponents to 16.3 points per game during that stretch and ends Tyrin Ferguson and Isaiah Washington have been catalysts for Karr’s defensive resurgence. That defense will be needed as Neville brings in a potent attack led by athlete Kavontae Turpin, who scored five touchdowns in Neville’s 56-30 victory over Breaux Bridge in the regional round of the 4A playoffs.
Washington, an LSU commitment, is among the team’s leaders with 72 tackles and Ferguson, an Oregon State commitment, has 15 sacks.
“Those two guys show up in the big games. I’m more worried about them when we play teams that aren’t as highly touted throughout the season,” Jones said. “The big-time games I can sleep easy, because I know they’re going to show up in a major way.
“They’ve been rocks for us on the end, and I think they might be the greatest strength of our team. Our defense has to continue to play well. That’s the staple of being a championship team.”