West Monroe head coach Jerry Arledge joked at Tuesday’s Bayou Jamb 2019 press conference the score for jamboree games do not matter. He immediately admitted that was a lie.
Turns out the score mattered for both Arledge and Neville head coach Mickey McCarty Friday night, as the Tigers faced a 4th-and-2 at West Monroe’s 16-yard line with 35 seconds remaining in the jamboree. Trailing by three points, Neville called timeout.
The Tigers offense huddled, and after the break in action, Neville kicker William Reed stayed put on the sideline. Out trotted the mule train formation, as three backs lined up in a “T” in the backfield. Sophomore quarterback Brett Batteford faked the handoff and rolled out to his right to find running back Timothy Byrd wide open for the 16-yard touchdown, earning the Tigers a 17-13 jamboree victory against the Rebs.
“We had an opportunity earlier to kick a field goal but went for it and got stoned, but our kids, we let them know we have confidence in them in big moments,” McCarty said. “Their defense stepped up one time on fourth-and-short and that time our offense got the best of them on that play.”
On his birthday no less, McCarty’s offensive ingenuity got the upper hand in a battle of wits with defensive guru, Arledge. But this is just round one in 2019, as Neville and West Monroe will meet again with higher stakes in Week 5. Still, that doesn’t lessen the blow of the loss for Arledge.
“If I wouldn’t have made a bad call, we probably would have won the ball game, but that’s life,” Arledge said. “We stopped them on the short yardage situation before when they brought in their mule train, and we went to a heavy formation to stop them on the run. I was expecting (the play action), but I just didn’t dial up the right call.”
The final touchdown drive from Neville was a nine-play, 57-yard drive that followed a game-changing play from the Rebels. Down 10-6 with less than four minutes to go, A.J. Fenceroy muffed the kickoff, collected it at the 3-yard line and burst through an opening for a 97-yard touchdown return.
“Resiliency, that’s what we’ve talked about,” said McCarty on his team’s response to West Monroe regaining the momentum. “Hopefully we can use this for a positive step into next week, and if you don’t use it for a positive, it’s kind of wasted.”
Batteford finished the jamboree completing five-of-seven for 52 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 26 yards on the ground.
Batteford replaced Andrew Brister, who went four-for-seven on his only two drives of the night. Brister is still recovering from a leg injury but is expected to be back for Week 1 against Ruston.
“We thought it was important he got some reps in the jamboree setting,” said McCarty after Brister was held out of both preseason scrimmages. “Tonight he played well, and Brett stepped up when called upon.”
On the opposing sideline, Lane Little entered the game in the first half for quarterback Garrett Kahmann, who exited with a shoulder injury after taking a hit on the sideline.
“He’s going to be fine,” West Monroe offensive coordinator Glenn Hunt said. “We held him out for precautionary reasons.”
Key players on both sides did not play in the jamboree. Neville was without star linebacker Javon Carter and starting running back Max Hunter, while West Monroe was missing star safety Brooks Miller, defensive lineman Malcolm Moore and linebacker Latayeveon McFee.
Despite Fenceroy’s 97-yard kickoff return, Hunt expressed displeasure with the Rebels’ special teams execution, among other things.
“We have to communicate better (up front) and identify what we’re going to do,” Hunt said. “I thought we competed hard, but they just kicked our butts in special teams. We had one play, but we had a 10-yard punt out of bounds, and every time they got the ball it was near midfield. We’ve got a lot to work on.”
Neville took a 7-6 lead on its first possession of the second half after a kickoff return placed the Tigers near their own 40-yard line. A 40-yard run from A.J. Allen led to a 10-yard touchdown pass from Batteford to Sam Emory in the corner of the end zone.
The Tigers extended their lead with a 32-yard field goal from Reed on the following possession.
The Rebels and Tigers traded punts to start the jamboree, as both West Monroe and Neville’s defensive lines got the better of the opposing offensive lines early on. Facing a third-and-long on the Rebels’ second possession, quarterback Garrett Kahmann evaded pressure and scrambled for a first down. Kahmann was helped up gingerly and Little subbed in for him. Kahmann’s day ended with a 1-for-2 stat line for 11 yards. Little completed 3-of-11 for 84 yards, but drew praise from West Monroe’s coaching staff for his performance Friday night’s big setting.
On the very next play, Derome Williams burst through the second level and made a Neville defender miss with a cut back en route to the end zone for the first score of the game. The play resembled a 50-yard touchdown run by Cam Wright in last year’s Bayou Jamb, which ironically was the first score of the game in 2018.
“He played JV ball for us last year and probably carried the ball 30 times a game,” Arledge said. “You talk about a work horse. He’s hard for us to tackle in practice.”
A missed extra point that followed made it 6-0 in favor of the Rebels.
Neville answered with a eight-play, 55-yard drive that stalled near the red zone when the Tigers went for it on 4th-and-2. West Monroe safety Bradley Williams tackled Timothy Byrd behind the line of scrimmage for the turnover on downs.
McCarty hopes Neville will carry the positive momentum into Bill Ruple Stadium Friday night when the Tigers host Ruston for the first game of the season, while West Monroe’s sideline hopes the loss lights a fire for the home-opener against Ridgeway.