Odd second-half plays almost always seem to happen in Bill Ruple Stadium on a football Friday night with heavy stakes on the line.
Heck, the first week of the season, the stadium played host to a 21-20 Neville victory over Ruston where four interceptions thrown, a blocked extra point and two defensive touchdowns somehow produced a one-point win for the Neville Tigers. Spooky results if you’re a Bearcat.
But strange goes hand in hand with Bill Ruple Stadium, which is why University High made the ultimate error in scheduling the Tigers on Friday the 13th of all dates. The Cubs brought their 27-game win streak from down south and left Forsythe Avenue with their first loss in three years.
“Our defense kept them shut out, and we’re really proud of that effort,” Neville head coach Mickey McCarty said. “I thought offensively we played a really good first half and played sloppy in the second half. Disappointed in that, but overall, it was a good win against a good football program.”
Before the ghosts of Bill Ruple Stadium haunted University’s aspirations for another undefeated season, the Neville Tigers played bully ball in a 28-0 thrashing. Neville’s offensive line pushed a defensive line that was bolstered by LSU commit (4-star) Jaquelin Roy all over the field, while Neville’s entire defense wreaked havoc and limited University to less than 100 yards of total offense in the shutout win.
Neville defensive lineman Tikey Reese met with his teammates before the game with one simple message — kill the hype.
“The hype didn’t bother us. I talked to my boys before the game,” Reese said. “I told ‘em, ‘Let the hype and the stars go. We have a ballgame to win.’”
While veterans like Reese, edge rusher Ikem Tankchell and linebacker Javon Carter pestered University’s offense, Neville offensive linemen Deworange Brown and Will Campbell were creating gaping holes for backs Max Hunter, AJ Allen and Timothy Byrd to eclipse more than 200 yards on the ground as a unit.
And that didn’t shock anybody on Neville’s sideline, especially Neville defensive tackle Tyler Puryear, who has practiced against Neville’s offensive line for months.
“At the end of the day, you have to line up and play football,” Puryear said. “Stars don’t mean anything.”
The game transitioned from dominant to wacky in the third quarter. After Neville quarterback Andrew Brister was picked off for the second time on the night, University was at Neville’s 1-yard line looking to get back into the game. The Tigers were leading 21-0, but before running back Derrick Graham could cross the goal line, Puryear jarred the ball loose and Reese recovered it in the end zone.
“I don’t know how it got loose, but I’m glad it got loose,” McCarty said. “That certainly could have changed the momentum in their favor and who knows what would have happened in the fourth quarter.”
That was the only scare University produced. It was all Neville the rest of the way.
In fact, Hunter outgained University’s entire offense in the first half (85 to 84).
The Tigers broke a scoreless tie with two minutes left in the first quarter. A hole parted right down the middle for Hunter to rumble 31 yards for the score. The holes would get bigger as the half progressed.
After a University three-and-out on the ensuing drive, Neville quarterback Andrew Brister was intercepted near midfield.
Brister’s 4-for-7 stat line at the half was misleading. All three incompletions were drops with one of those drops resulting in that University interception.
That turnover ended the quarter, but the second quarter began with the Tigers regaining possession. A tipped pass fell right in the hands of Andrew Cagle, who made an interception for the second consecutive week.
“All the hype was on their defense entering the game,” said Cagle, who scored the game-winning touchdown in the 21-20 win against Ruston. “We weren’t getting any attention. After this game, I think we will.”
Charles Straughter also corralled an interception in the second half for the Tigers. Neville forced four University turnovers in the win.
The Tigers capitalized on Straughter's interception when Allen took a handoff eight yards and into the end zone to put the Tigers up, 14-0.
Neville added some insurance points late in the half when Brister pumped and dropped a beautiful spiral in the arms of Mercurius Chatman in the back of the end zone for a 17-yard score.
Hunter led the Tigers with 98 yards on 13 carries, while Hunter totaled 102 rushing yards on 18 carries. Byrd scored the final touchdown of the game for the Tigers on a three-yard run.
Brister finished the game completing 6-of-11 for 51 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
At 2-0, Neville will travel to play (1-1) Ouachita next Friday night.