MONROE — The pregame banter prior to Friday night’s Neville-University High clash centered on streaks. It turned out the focus was on the wrong one.
U-High arrived at Bill Ruple Stadium having won a state-best 27 consecutive games. The same field where the Tigers have lost only twice since 2011.
A suffocating defensive effort carried Neville (2-0) to a 28-0 win and handed the Cubs (1-1) their first loss since 2016.
“It’s a young team still learning how to play and even though we got beat 28-0, I think we got a lot of good lessons out of this,” U-High head coach Andy Martin said.
Pitching a shutout, collecting four turnovers and ceding just 105 total yards, Neville stalked U-High like Jason Voorhees on this Friday the 13th. The Tigers held running back Derrick Graham to 58 yards on 17 carries after the sophomore went for 226 yards the week prior against John Ehret.
“Our defense just rose to the occasion every time we stumbled and my hat’s off to them for keeping that shutout,” Neville head coach Mickey McCarty said. “They had their backs against the wall a few times and really answered for us.”
Though Neville coughed up two turnovers in the third quarter, U-High had zero points to show for it. Trailing 21-0, safety Trevor Evans intercepted quarterback Andrew Brister and made it to the 1-yard line before going down. Backed up on the goal line, defensive tackle Tikey Reese recovered a Graham fumble to end the threat.
Running back Max Hunter fumbled on Neville’s previous offensive series, only for the Cubs to give it right back when quarterback Tanner Lawson was picked off by cornerback Charles Straughter.
“Our defense played really hard in the third quarter and started giving them some issues,” Martin said. “I think we were in that game in the third quarter and it was pivotal that we didn’t punch some of those in.”
Behind sophomore A.J. Allen’s 12-carry, 134-yard and one-touchdown performance, Neville ran for 282 total yards. Hunter added 76 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries and Timothy Byrd ran four times for 34 yards and the game-clinching score in the fourth quarter.
Brister was intercepted twice on 6-of-11 passing for 52 yards with one touchdown.
“We had a good rhythm in the first half offensively that we just never found in the second half,” McCarty said. “I was disappointed that it got sloppy at times but proud of our kids for battling and overall this was a good win against a good football team.”
Rated as the no. 1 overall prospect in the state, U-High defensive tackle Jaquelin Roy was a non-factor on the line of scrimmage. The LSU commit was held in check by Neville offensive tackles DeWorange Brown and Will Campbell.
“We did a few adjustments at halftime that helped us out defensively, but we couldn’t get anything going on offense,” Martin said. “It seemed like we were right there, but we’d drop a ball or get a penalty and you can’t do that against good teams.”
Brister lofted an out-and-out route to wide receiver Mercurius Chatman for a 16-yard touchdown late in the second quarter. Neville bled 4:52 off the clock on a seven-play, 62-yard drive and led 21-0 at the half.
With 2:04 left in the first quarter, Max Hunter’s 32-yard run put the Tigers on the board first.
U-High snagged an interception on the final play of the first quarter. Jordan Mansfield bobbled a pass from Brister that landed in linebacker Andre Vanmerrienboer’s hands.
Safety Andrew Cagle gave the ball back to Neville on the next play, picking off Lawson and returning it deep into Cubs’ territory. Allen took a handoff 8 yards for his first varsity touchdown to finish the drive.
The Cubs managed just 83 total yards and six first downs through two quarters.