Neville head coach Jeff Tannehill looked back at local television cameras and signaled to put them away as he addressed his 2021 football team for the final time following a game.
With Warren Easton’s 45-17 victory Friday night in Bill Ruple Stadium, a somber Tannehill told his group how much they meant to him as tears rolled down the faces of seniors who made the semifinals for the fourth consecutive year.
“This senior group was outstanding,” Tannehill said. “Four years to the semis, and it hurts every time we lose. I’m just so proud of these guys. I’ve known most of their parents and most of them their whole lives. They’re just a bunch of great kids. I’ll go anywhere and play anybody with them guys.”
A game that Neville led 17-13 with less than three minutes to play in the second quarter turned sideways on the Tigers in the final moments of the half and into the third quarter.
The turning point in the game arguably came with less than two minutes to play. After Neville quarterback Brett Batteford tossed a 26-yard touchdown pass to Michael Plummer up the seam with 2:18 to play in the second quarter, the Tigers took a 17-13 lead. Shortly after, Easton was facing a third-and-12 from its own 34-yard line following Neville star defensive lineman Enyce Sledge’s second tackle for loss in the half.
Easton’s Keddrick Connelly took the snap and floated a pass over the middle to Wallace Foster who quite literally sat down in the middle of the zone. The play was enough to move the chains and ultimately set up a 47-yard touchdown pass from Connelly to Wallace Foster.
“We had some injuries there, and had to make some adjustments,” said Tannehill, who was referencing All-Parish corner Lorenzell Dubose. “They just made a great throw and catch and out jumped us in the end zone. That gave them some momentum, and then we came out in the second half and didn’t do much.”
An unsportsmanlike penalty after the score moved the Eagles back to the 18-yard line, but Connelly tossed up a jump ball to Ryan Miller, who made the catch and gave Easton a 21-17 lead with 40 seconds remaining in the half.
“That was huge for the momentum and for the psyche of our kids,” Warren Easton defensive coordinator Noel Ellis said. “When they saw we could score on them, that just became what we do. We lined up, and we pounded them. They said our offense is simple. Forty-five points don’t look too simple to me.”
Eagles safety Jeff Jones recorded a tackle for loss on the opening series of the second half, which led to a quick punt from the Tigers, and Warren Easton responded with a 71-yard screen that saw Leon Ellioe cross the goal line to make it a 29-17 affair. Jay Gordon scored later in the quarter to give the Eagles a 20-point lead and force Neville to abandon its initial game plan.
The Tigers, which went 23 straight quarters without giving up a single point, struggled to slow down an Easton team that compiled 511 yards of total offense. Connelly completed 12-of-17 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns. Gordon rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns, while Fred Robertson added 92 yards and a score.
Warren Easton held Neville to less than 55 yards of total offense in the second half. Neville star running back A.J. Allen was limited to 73 yards and a score on 22 carries.
Following the game, Warren Easton ran to midfield and started dancing and taunting the Tigers who went out to shake hands following the loss. The two teams had to be separated as emotions ran high.
“Our kids got a little hot when they started dancing on our ‘N’ out there, and I don’t blame them one bit,” Tannehill said. “I just didn’t think it was real… We didn’t even shake their hands cause of the way they were acting.”
The end of the second half was similar to the Eagles’ fast start. Easton played bully ball, as the Eagles marched down the field with a five-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a 25-yard Robertson run.
Neville answered with the first of its three short-field scores in the half. After Allen’s return put the Tigers at their own 48-yard line, Neville was propelled by a 30-yard run by Jaylon Nichols, who was filling in for Allen after his helmet came off. Allen returned and slipped through two Eagle defenders before crossing the goal line to tie the score.
Neville’s next possession started at the 31-yard line, and the Tigers took their first lead of the game with a 33-yard field goal from Breard Inabnett. Meanwhile, the Tigers defense continued to do work with Matthew Fobbs-White, Henton Roberts and Kendall January each recording tackles for loss.
Easton regained the lead on a 12-play, 79-yard drive that Gordon polished off with a one-yard dive.
On Neville’s touchdown drive that gave the Tigers a 17-13 edge, Allen converted a fourth down attempt where he juked an Eagle defender before extending his body for the first down. Easton’s defense then honed in on Allen before Batteford’s play-action score to Plummer.
Batteford finished his night with a 5-of-10 performance for 37 yards and a score, while rushing for 25 yards on 11 carries. The Tigers totaled 179 yards in defeat and finish the season with an 11-2 record.