Wide-eyed as he came free on a speed rush, Neville High School’s Anterrius Goodin sacked Warren Easton quarterback Tyriek Starks, forcing a fumble the Tigers recovered with less than six minutes to go in the game. With a 41-28 lead, Goodin’s sack fumble allowed Donald Jenkins and Chris Haynes to trim the clock in a 44-36 victory that punched Neville’s ticket to the state championship for the second year in a row.
Already with an interception that setup a 6-yard touchdown run from quarterback Jaiden Cole, the senior defensive lineman had one thought in his mind as he neared Starks on the game-changing play.
“I can’t lose my last home game,” Goodin said.
In a game that featured powerful runs from Jenkins and Cole, bone-smashing hits in the backfield by Neville’s Rashard Lawrence and a 100-yard kickoff return by Warren Easton’s Clyde Chriss, momentum transitioned back-and-forth, especially early.
“It was a very hard-fought game by both teams,” Neville head coach Mickey McCarty said. “Mistakes were made by both teams, but the kids kept battling and kept playing, found a way to come out on top and make it to the Superdome.”
After the Tigers forced an Eagle punt on the opening drive of the game, Neville receiver Quintin Guice flipped the field on a return to Easton’s 25-yard line, setting up an eventual nine-yard touchdown by Josh Diarse, giving Neville a 7-0 lead.
Starks and the Eagles answered. A 26-yard run by Larry Barabino set up a one-yard Starks quarterback sneak to tie the game at 7. Neville quickly went back to work, though, mounting a 53-yard drive — after another nice return from Guice — culminating in a 16-yard Cole touchdown run.
After ensuing back-to-back punts, the second quarter opened with another game-changing play from Goodin. From the Eagles’ 12-yard line, Starks dropped back to pass and threw directly into the hands of Goodin. The play set the stage for another Cole touchdown, giving the Tigers a 20-7 advantage. Cole finished the game with 104 rushing yards and completed five of his nine passes for 75 yards, totaling three touchdowns in the process.
The rest of the second quarter would prove to be problematic for the Tigers. A Cole interception and fumble combined with several penalties — including an unsportsmanlike foul at the end of the half that moved the Tigers out of field goal range — sent the game into the locker room, 20-14.
“I felt we showed a lack of discipline in the first half, and that’s something they got an earful on at halftime,” McCarty said.
The Tigers came out of the half with a sense of purpose, taking less than two minutes to find paydirt on a short field once again. Jenkins, Cole and Diarse led the way on the ground on a 49-yard drive that gave Neville a 27-14 lead. However, on the ensuing kickoff, after purposefully kicking away from Chriss the entire first half, the Tigers kicked in his direction. Chriss made Neville pay for it, taking the kickoff 100 yards and bringing the game within six.
The score didn’t rattle Neville’s offense, as a 50-yard run by Cole set up a four-yard Jenkins’ score. Cole injured his ankle on the explosive play and spent the rest of the game on the sideline.
With a 34-21 lead, Neville’s defense asserted its dominance, and Lawrence made his presence felt all too literally for running back Barabino. On a third down play, Barabino was handed the football in the backfield when an untouched Lawrence plowed over him.
“I was just thinking, ‘I’ve got to tackle one of them,’” Lawrence said. “It looked like (the running back and the quarterback) both had the ball, so I just thought tackle one of them. Thank God it was the running back.”
Barabino limped around, but stayed in to punt before kicking the gunner in the back with the football. After a facemask penalty on the play by Neville, the Tigers took over from Easton’s 40-yard line — their fourth drive starting in Warren Easton territory. With Cole sidelined, Haynes took over with poise and found Cole McCarty on a 20-yard touchdown pass to give the Tigers a 41-21 lead late in the third quarter.
Starks and Chriss connected on long passing plays in the fourth quarter, but a Neville goal line stand and Goodin’s sack fumble all but secured the victory for the Tigers.
“It was the game of my life,” Goodin said. “But I give credit to my teammates and good coaching.”
Neville rode Jenkins and Diarse late in the fourth to eat minutes.
“I love these type of games,” Jenkins said. “I loved it when they gave it to me at the end. I’ve got a great (offensive) line.”
Jenkins finished the game with 77 yards on the ground, while Diarse rushed for 69.
A 25-yard field goal by Charlie Barefoot gave Neville a 44-28 lead before Starks found Chriss on a 20-yard score with 10 seconds left in the game.
Starks threw for more than 200 yards in the loss, while Chriss totaled more than 100 receiving yards.
Thirty total penalties occurred in the contest with Warren Easton drawing 17 flags.
Following the win, the (13-0) Tigers will face Edna Karr in the Superdome in New Orleans at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.