When filling out the depth charts in summer meetings, Neville coaches fought long and hard over one player, Zeb Ruddell. The sophomore athlete was a hot commodity who could be used in numerous ways on either side of the ball, and Neville fans have seen Ruddell make plays on offense and defense throughout the season. But no play was bigger than his pick six in the fourth quarter to ultimately give the (6-2, 3-0) Neville Tigers a 19-14 victory over (7-2, 3-1) Bastrop.
“They kept having arguments with me saying you want to play this or you want to play that,” Ruddell said. “I was just like wherever y’all put me I’m going to try and make plays.”
Before the play, Neville coaches told the players that big-time players make big-time plays, and though Ruddell rose to the occasion, he gave credit to his teammate Will Campbell. Leading 14-13 and nearing midfield, Bastrop ran a tunnel screen that ultimately fell into Ruddell’s hands. But before it did, Campbell made an impact on the defensive line.
“Will made that happen,” Ruddell said. “Will blew up the (tight) end, and so the quarterback tried to throw it behind the end and he threw it up and it tipped off the receiver’s fingers and into my hands. It was nothing but green grass.”
Campbell, who is a standout sophomore left tackle that’s garnered offers from numerous colleges including LSU, played on the defensive line and secured two second-half sacks that helped preserve the Tigers’ fourth quarter lead.
“I’m comfortable playing offense, I like it, but I will say getting a sack every now and then will give you energy. It’s fun,” Campbell said.
Because defensive tackle Tyler Puryear missed the game with a foot injury, Neville head coach Mickey McCarty and his staff worked Campbell on the defensive line all week during practice.
“That’s something we’ve been looking at,” McCarty said. “Will from the get-go at practice showed signs of being a great player.”
Neville’s defense limited Bastrop to 74 rushing yards and 148 passing yards. The Tigers sacked Bastrop quarterback Zy Scott five times and forced two interceptions. But make no mistake about it, the Tigers and Rams had another war of attrition Friday night. And in many ways, it was closer and more exhilarating than last year’s 17-12 meeting. And yet again, Bastrop had Neville on the ropes.
Bastrop botched a scoring opportunity late in the half after Jabez Thompson laid out for a 42-yard reception from Scott with 18 seconds left. The Rams called timeout and ran a dive from the Neville 4-yard line on the ensuing play. The Tigers’ big package, which included Campbell, dropped Bastrop back Robeyone Williams for a loss. Bastrop tried to hurry and spike the football but did not get the snap off before time expired. Bastrop coaches protested while Neville sprinted to the locker room for halftime.
“We told (the referees) after the play we wanted to try and spike the ball,” Bastrop head coach Cedric Sherrod said. “The ball was being moved around and the officials were unclear of what to do in that moment. And then the time ran out.”
Early on, it looked as though it would be all Tigers. After a three-and-out, with Neville players on the sidelines waving towels and encouraging the defense, the Tigers made good on a short field with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Brister to running back Max Hunter. That capped a seven-play, 42-yard drive for the Tigers, and unfortunately would be the only highlight for the offense in the first two quarters. Hunter went down with a head injury in the first half and did not return.
“He was very much involved in the game plan,” McCarty said. “He’s been playing well, and he’s a great football player. We had to adjust and scramble a bit. But credit to our guys for battling.”
The Rams weren’t much better offensively out of the gates.
Bastrop’s air attack failed to get off the runway early on, as the Rams began the contest with six incompletions, including a Charles Straughter interception.
The game swung in the second quarter, however, when Williams intercepted Brister in Bastrop territory and returned it to Neville’s 25-yard line. He found the end zone five run plays later to tie the game.
Bastrop looked to take the lead on a two-point attempt, but veteran defensive lineman Tikey Reese snuffed out the rush attempt to keep the game tied.
The Tigers scored on their first possession of the second half when Brister ultimately connected with Timothy Byrd on a 10-yard pass. Brister tossed two touchdowns and two interceptions, while also throwing for 121 yards in the win.
Bastrop immediately responded with a seven-play, 65-yard drive that culminated in a seven-yard score from Thompson on fourth down. A successful 2-point conversion put the Tigers on top, 14-13, before Ruddell’s game-changing pick six.
“We didn’t play our best, but at the same time we found a way to win,” McCarty said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
The Tigers continue their district win streak after the win. Neville hasn’t lost a district game since 2010 and will host Huntington Thursday in the final regular contest of the season.