Jerry Arledge called West Monroe’s 24-7 victory against Neville Friday night one of the best victories he’s ever been part of in his 29 years at West Monroe.
“It’s as big a win as any I can ever remember," West Monroe's head coach said. "It’s as big as any Superdome game. It’s the rivalry. That’s what makes high school in general so great.”
Friday night’s win for West Monroe was much more than just an added chapter in its storied history against Neville, though. It went much deeper than that. Because after many had written West Monroe off following a 16-0 shutout loss to Carencro to open the season followed by players like Aidan Swanner playing his own game of musical chairs, bouncing around from three different positions within the last 24 hours, Arledge and his coaches couldn’t hammer home enough just how proud they were of their bunch.
“I thought Lane Little played the best game of his career,” said West Monroe offensive coordinator Glenn Hunt after Little led the team with 87 yards on 16 carries. “He called three-fourths of that game at the line of scrimmage. I couldn’t be prouder of our offensive line. We had to make a change and move Swanner to guard after we learned we lost our tight end 24 hours from the game. That was special. I’m just so happy.”
The Rebels outscored Neville 10-0 in the second half, but West Monroe also got off to a fast start…
West Monroe, which typically differs after the coin toss, had the ball first after Neville won the toss.
No problem for the Rebels, as West Monroe used that as an opportunity to establish some gaping holes up front by an often-criticized offensive line in the early goings of the season. That unit cleared running lanes for senior tailback Derome Williams and senior quarterback Little, who ripped off runs of 10-plus yards on the opening drive.
As Neville defenders in the secondary inched closer to the line of scrimmage, Little put the ball in Williams gut just long enough to pull it and hit a streaking Howard left all alone near the sideline. That completion was good for a 38-yard gain and set up a short-yardage score by the fullback Howard three plays later.
Immediately, the Rebels gathered all the momentum and rode that wave throughout the first quarter. West Monroe senior defensive lineman Sirrlarius Reed stopped Neville running back Timothy Byrd short of the sticks on the ensuing possession to force the first punt of the contest.
And that provided the second biggest play of the half, as Javari Sanders fielded the punt deep in West Monroe territory and raced 76 yards to put the Rebels inside Neville’s 5-yard line. Howard found the end zone again to give West Monroe the 14-0 lead midway into the quarter. The biggest play of the half came from West Monroe in the second quarter, but before that took place, Neville dug its heels in and fought back…
Defenses take over
After Neville running back A.J. Allen made Rebel defenders miss in the open field and Batteford’s 45-yard pass to Dexter Robinson, the Tigers carved into West Monroe’s lead with a five-yard score from Allen to start the second quarter.
The Tigers didn’t relent a yard on the ensuing drive. Junior defensive lineman Samari Wright tackled Williams at the line of scrimmage on first down, and after an incomplete pass on second down, junior corner Lorenzell Dubose, who just recently received his third SEC offer, batted a deep pass attempt away on third down.
The defenses settled in on both sides with violent collisions setting the tone the rest of the half. West Monroe junior linebacker Tag Banks met Batteford in the hole and dropped the junior quarterback on a third-and-short attempt, and shortly after, Neville junior defensive tackle Enyce Sledge slung Williams to the ground on the Rebels third-down attempt. Every yard was earned on this night.
The Tigers turned to the air late in the second half to put West Monroe defenders on skates. Batteford connected with Billquarrius Goodin for a 13-yard gain before hooking up with Camron Carter for an 18-yard pass. That got the Tigers inside West Monroe’s red zone.
That’s when it happened… Batteford looked to squeeze another completion to Carter next to the sideline but senior defensive back Josh Cobbs stepped in front for the pivotal interception. That allowed West Monroe to sit on the ball and take a 14-7 lead into the half.
"It was a game of big breaks and big plays, and I thought that was the biggest one," Arledge said.
The defenses continued to dictate the pace in the second half, as Neville and West Monroe exchanged punts throughout the third quarter. West Monroe sophomore linebacker Chauncey Lee recorded a sack fumble on third down late in the quarter, as the Rebels clung to that 14-7 lead.
“There’s just one thing that drives me crazy right now, and it’s that we have to get better at finishing the football game in the second half,” Neville head coach Jeff Tannehill said.
Little comes up Big
West Monroe started its ensuing drive on Neville’s 43-yard line, and Williams busted a 17-yard gain off the option pitch. The Rebels leaned on its veer offense to scratch and claw their way into the red zone. But Neville senior safety Kareem Moore dropped Williams for no gain on third down to force West Monroe to settle for a field goal. West Monroe settled for a Luke Stagg 24-yard field goal that extended the Rebels lead to 10.
After another Neville drive stalled midway into the fourth quarter, Hunt dialed up yet another trick play. One week after having Tanner Young complete a double pass to Matthew McAlister for a score against Evangel, Hunt ran a reverse with Young that went for 25 yards.
"Coach Hunt, once he sees something, he loves it and wants to run it," Young said. "Our plan this week was to come in and play smashmouth football."
That ultimately led to a 21-yard touchdown run by Little that put the game out of Neville’s reach. Little faked the give and kept it before breaking a tackle and scoring in the final quarter. Little made a check at the line just before the play.
“When you make checks at the line of scrimmage, whatever they’re in, it’s wrong,” Little said. “It’s wrong because you can check to something that fits what they’re lined up in.”
That responsibility was given to Little after West Monroe coaches saw Neville switch from a four-man front defensively to a solid front. So the Rebels gave the keys of the offense to their quarterback in the second quarter, just like the late great Don Shows did back in his day.
"He can see the defense from where he's standing better than us," Hunt said.
Actually, Hunt compared Little to the old ‘90s quarterbacks that won championships at West Monroe. Arledge liked that comparison too.
“That sucker is tough,” Arledge said.
Not only was he tough in the Rebels victory, but he also carried that chip on his shoulder that Hunt urged him to have weeks before the season.
"On the mound, he noticed I had full confidence, and he wanted me to take full control," said Little, recalling a conversation before West Monroe scrimmaged Acadiana this year. "He told me, 'I need that Lane Little that takes the pitcher's mound.'"
Down a Vet
West Monroe was dealt a heavy blow before the game when veteran tight end Rylan Green was forced to miss due to contact tracing.
Defensive lineman turned offensive guard Aidan Swanner filled in for Green at the position. He got a day’s notice…
“They called me around 12 (Thursday) and they said, ‘Hey, are you at the school? I need you to get to the field house because you’re playing tight end this week,’” Swanner said. “So I get up there and he just starts writing a bunch of plays on the board, and I’m just copying as fast as I can. And then I go home and study. I didn’t really get a lot of sleep last night.”
Swanner also led the team with three tackles for loss.
Arledge praised Swanner’s efforts on both sides of the ball, stating he was the perfect example of the Rebels overcoming whatever adversity was thrown at them.
Heading into the 2020 contest, the Rebels had beaten the Tigers 10 consecutive times. That’s quite a difference from when Neville went 26-1 against West Monroe from 1964 to 1992.
With the victory, the streak remains alive. West Monroe hasn’t lost to Neville since 1995.
West Monroe outgained Neville 235 to 217 in total yards. Allen led Neville with 67 yards and a score on one carry.
Neville will travel to Franklin Parish Thursday, while the Rebels host Alexandria Senior High on Friday.