Even when thing aren’t clicking offensively, Neville head coach Jeff Tannehill always has an ace up his sleeve. His name is A.J. Allen.
On a frustrating night offensively that ultimately ended in a 28-6 victory against rival Ouachita, the Tigers gave the ball to No. 3 over and over again and watched him dazzle the crowd with 218 yards and four scores on 29 carries.
“We really simplified stuff at halftime,” Tannehill said. “Obviously, No. 3 touched the ball a whole bunch. I’m just proud of our offensive line. Will (Campbell) and (Lance) Heard, both of our big tackles, had big games and our guards started closing that gap (Ouachita) was running through in the first half.”
First-half turnovers on both sides kept the contest a defensive slugfest in the before the Tigers ran the football more effectively in the second half. And make no mistake about it — the game certainly symbolized a slugfest.
In the early goings, LSU commit and 5-star offensive tackle Campbell pancaked a Ouachita defender near the sideline before standing over him and shouting, “All night long baby!”
“We knew coming into this game that it would be a four-quarter battle,” Campbell said. “They expected the same thing. We had to be prepared because we all know each other. We had to come out here and be physical and just let them know that we’re not going anywhere.”
On the defensive side, reigning Ouachita Citizen Defensive Player of the Year Henton Roberts popped his shoulder out minutes into the ballgame. Roberts said “thankfully” it only stayed out for 45 seconds on the sideline so he could go back in and lead the Tigers in tackles.
“Last week Henton didn’t have a lot of tackles because he was covered up by a tight end, but this week he was able to run free and you saw him make a lot of plays,” Tannehill said.
Still, the Lions were very much in the ballgame at the start of the third quarter. Facing a 4th-and-3 at the Ouachita 19-yard line, Tannehill sent his offense back out there and dialed up an option read play. The play started as a disaster. Allen ran into Neville quarterback Brett Batteford in the backfield before grabbing the ball and exploding through an open hole for the 19-yard score.
He polished off the next Neville drive with another touchdown run to give the Tigers a 28-6 lead at the start of the fourth quarter. During that drive, a bad snap rolled into the backfield before Allen picked it up and ran for a 15-yard gain.
“If we mess up, he can still make a play,” Campbell said. “It’s very nice. You don’t find backs like that. He’s special.”
On the other sideline, three first-half turnovers is what Ouachita head coach Todd Garvin felt was the biggest difference in the ballgame.
“Turnovers are the first thing that gets you beat,” Garvin said. “We’re not good enough to overcome that, not at this point. I thought our defense did a heck of a job in the first half overcoming some adverse situations. They bent. They didn’t break.”
Five first-half turnovers set the tone for a defensive slugfest in the first two quarters. With a field goal block, interception by a defensive lineman and strip fumbles that would make All-Pro Tyrann Mathieu envious, Neville and Ouachita’s defenses stole the show in the first half, which is saying something considering Allen rushed for 143 yards and two scores in the first two quarters alone.
Allen scored his first of the night on the Tigers’ second possession of the game.
Ouachita looked to steal the momentum back on the very next series with a reverse to Caridell Sirmans, but after a 39-yard gain, Neville’s Maurion Eleam stripped the ball from behind before falling on the loose ball.
Two possessions later, Henderson started to find some traction on the ground. He rushed three times for 43 yards to get the ball near midfield before the Lions ultimately turned the football over on downs.
Neville had an opportunity to go up by two scores with good field position, but Allen fumbled the football after taking on a brutal head-on collision. Mondrai Hogg recovered the football for the Lions.
Ouachita took advantage.
At the start of the second quarter, Ouachita dove into its bag of tricks and dialed up a halfback pass, as Sirmans tossed a perfect pass on the move to Austin Willis for the 44-yard strike. The Lions missed the ensuing PAT, so Neville clung to a 7-6 lead.
The Tigers and Lions exchanged turnovers over the course of the next several minutes. Ouachita defensive back Jaylen Kincaid blocked a field goal attempt, Roberts knocked a football loose and recovered it, Neville defensive lineman Isaiah Brown recovered a Ouachita fumble after quarterback Zach Jackson had to leave the game due to his helmet being knocked off and Ouachita defensive lineman Phil Bradford intercepted Batteford on a wide receiver screen.
Neville extended its lead by two touchdowns with a 16-yard Allen touchdown run with 4:41 remaining in the half.
Henderson rushed for 68 yards on 16 carries, while Sirmans rushed for 56 yards to go along with his 44 passing yards.
Up next for the (2-0) Tigers will be a road contest with Jena, while the (1-1) Lions host Carroll Friday night. Garvin is hoping to see a packed stadium, just like the Lions packed the visitors section in Bill Ruple Stadium.
"It was amazing support tonight," Garvin said. "You turn around and look up there at all those people, and I’m not talking 30 minutes after kickoff. The support we had prior to kickoff, it meant so much to our kids coming out of the locker room prior to kickoff to see that. It’s got to continue, and we look forward to that."