WM vs Neville - BayouJamb2019

Played at Malone Stadium 30Aug2019. Photo by TOM MORRIS/The Ouachita Citizen

University High invades Bill Ruple Stadium with its 27-game win streak Friday night in hopes of making another strong case for best in the state.

Coming off of last year’s 13-0 state championship run, (1-0) U-High has to replace several Power 5 players, including Alabama linebacker Christian Harris, Clemson’s linebacker Bryton Constantin and Georgia athlete Makiya Tongue.

But fret not, (1-0) Neville head coach Mickey McCarty knows his team is in for a challenge when University brings 2020 LSU defensive lineman commit Jaquelin Roy and 2022 running back Derrick Graham, among others, into town Friday night.

“They lost some key players like we did, but that type of program just shuffles things around and reloads,” McCarty said. “We know it’s going to be a hard-fought game.”

And the Tigers are no strangers to those. Last Friday night, the Tigers proved again just how resilient they are with a Week 1 victory against Ruston.

The Tigers ended Ruston’s two-game win streak over Neville in a 21-20 victory Friday night in Bill Ruple Stadium. The Tigers nearly handed the Bearcats the victory with a costly special teams blunder and four first-half interceptions, but two defensive touchdowns paved the Tigers’ path to victory.

“I thought our guys played with a great deal of effort,” McCarty said. “In the end, we found a way to win with two defensive scores. It was good to get out of there with the win and look ahead.”

McCarty praised his team’s resiliency in a 17-13 jamboree victory against West Monroe last weekend, and in the season opener against Neville, the Tigers showed their guts again.

Whether it was rust from rehabbing a leg injury this offseason or Ruston’s ability to force unwarranted throws, Neville quarterback Andrew Brister struggled to settle into the game with four interceptions.

“Credit Ruston because they played with a lot of speed and made a couple nice plays on some balls,” McCarty said. “One pick went through our receiver’s hands. It was just one of those nights. Not the start he wanted, but there’s a great lesson there in adversity. I’m proud of his tenacity to hang in there.”

Backup quarterback Brett Batteford, who threw the game-winning touchdown against West Monroe in the Bayou Jamb 2019, was unavailable with a finger injury. Batteford will miss the next three weeks, McCarty said.

Neville’s defense picked up the slack, though. Ironically, the first score of the night came on a pick-six by Neville’s Hinton Roberts.

Two second-quarter scores for Ruston — a three-yard run by Deontre Griffin and nine-yard pass from Jaden Procell to Devian Wilson — gave the Bearcats a 13-7 lead at the half. The second score was set up by a snap that went over punter William Reed’s head and placed Ruston inside Neville’s 10-yard line.

Neville wasn’t going anywhere. Brister connected with running back Max Hunter for five-yard score and Reed’s extra point put the Tigers on top, 14-13, in the second half.

Shortly after, a coverage breakdown allowed Ruston to answer with a 77-yard touchdown pass from Procell to Cam Crowe in the seesaw battle.

Ruston head coach Jerrod Baugh was 2-0 against Neville heading into the Tigers’ 1,000th football game, and he was on the verge of going 3-0 in the fourth quarter before the Tigers turned the tide on defense.

Neville veteran linebacker Javon Carter forced a Ruston fumble and Andrew Cagle scooped up the ball and returned it 36 yards for the game-winning score.

Brister finished the night completing 11-of-19 for 121 yards, a score and four interceptions, while Hunter led the Tigers on the ground with 72 yards on 18 carries. Zeb Ruddell caught four passes for 65 yards for the Tigers.

Neville outgained Ruston 326 yards to 240.

Award-winning sports writer for columns and features since joining the field in 2013. As the first-ever featured columnist of the month at Bleacher Report, Martin cut his teeth with online media before joining the newspaper business in 2014.

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