Neville 10, Bastrop 0
Nobody saw a defensive slugfest coming.
Early in the fourth quarter, it appeared as if Neville and Bastrop might be headed to overtime with regulation ending in a scoreless draw.
On a night when the defenses ruled, special teams ultimately decided the outcome in the Tigers' 10-0 victory Thursday night at Ram Stadium.
Facing fourth-and-two from its own 49, Neville opted to send the punting team on. It would prove to be the right move as Ryan Jones' 45-yard punt rolled dead at the 6, and the Rams were never able to flip the field position.
On third-and-nine, Celento Traylor laid out to make a 10-yard catch for a first down at the 17, but the Rams eventually set up to punt from the 22.
Chasing down a high snap in the end zone, Bastrop punter A.J. Fenceroy was corralled at the 1.
Neville (6-3, 3-0) cashed in on the next snap as Demaine Riley went up-and-over the pile for the game's only touchdown. Zach White's PAT put the Tigers up 7-0 with 7:06 remaining.
After White boomed the kickoff for a touchback, the Rams set up at their own 20.
Calvert Johnson's nine-yard reception on third down set up fourth-and-one, but the Rams backed themselves up with a false start.
Penalties and missed opportunities — not necessarily in that order — were the story of the night for the Rams (5-4, 2-1).
"We had 15 penalties (for 124 yards) and they had six penalties (for 60 yards)," Bastrop coach Adrian Burnette said. "I'm not one to point the finger, but it's a shame when it feels as if others are dictating the outcome of the game instead of the kids.
"We had a fourth down that I thought we had made, and I asked the refs for a measurement, and they refused.
"There were certain situations that we could have handled better, and ultimately, that falls on me. I take the blame for it, and that's my fault.
"We had too many penalties, too many penalties, too many penalties."
After Bastrop's fourth down pass fell incomplete, the Tigers took over at the 24.
Four plays later, White's 35-yard field goal stretched the lead to 10-0 and all but sealed Neville's ninth straight District 2-4A championship.
Bastrop began its final drive from the 35 after the ensuing kickoff landed out of bounds.
Laterrance Browhow's first down sack defused the series and the Tigers took over at the Bastrop 37 four plays later.
Riley's apparent touchdown run on the next play was negated by a holding call, but the Tigers converted a third-and-one on Jordan Thomas' 4-yard carry to the 24. With the Rams out of timeouts, Neville ran out the clock from victory formation.
Bastrop opted to start the game on offense after winning the toss, and the two sides traded punts.
Regaining possession at the 20 after Jones' 72-yard punt rolled into the end zone, the Rams put together what would be the best drive of the game by either offense.
Traylor's 31-yard reception pushed the Rams into Neville territory, but Quaterius Hawkins' 21-yard run was wiped out by a 15-yard facemask infraction.
With the Rams facing third-and-15 from midfield, Quaterius Hawkins found Calvert Johnson for 45 yards and a first-and-goal at the 5.
Two incomplete passes and a 4-yard keeper by Quaterius Hawkins brought up fourth-and-goal from the 1. Neville then stonewalled the fourth down running play for no gain.
Bastrop also came up empty on a first-and-goal from the 7 on its first possession of the second half.
T.J. Blanch's stop in the backfield forced Neville to punt on its initial series and the Rams started from the 20.
SirQuan Hawkins' 34-yard reception and Desi Holmes' 33-yard carry advanced the Rams to the 7.
The promising drive quickly came unraveled as the Rams were penalized for an ineligible receiver downfield and quarterback Quaterius Hawkins left the game with a cramp.
Tom McGee's tackle for a 9-yard loss backed the Rams up to the 26, before Devan Bouie batted down a third down pass near the goal line and Riley broke up a fourth down throw in the end zone.
"That was a bad break," Burnette said of Quaterius Hawkins' temporary exit. "Once he started cramping, I honestly believe his body started shutting down on him. When he came back, he didn't have as much on his passes and he was a little slow on his reads. The weather change was real hard on us. Their guys were cramping, too."
Taking over on downs at the 24, Neville moved the sticks on a 21-yard pass from Jordan Thomas to Tylor Brown — their longest play of the game. A.J. Fenceroy then recovered a fumble at the Bastrop 45, but the offense went three and out.
For the Rams, the window of opportunity was about to close.
Notes: Lawrence Moore Jr., Desi Holmes, SirQuan Hawkins, Celento Traylor, Alexander Adams, ZaDerrion Ridgell, Steven Beard, Hermon Jones, Noray Robinson, Maleek Mays, Chancelor Johnson, Zion Lawton, Chris Thirdkill and Jacobey Mansfield were recognized during a pregame Senior Night ceremony. ... Bastrop ran 66 plays as compared to Neville's 41, and held a 289-151 edge in total offense. ... Three of the Rams' penalties came on one play late in the first half. Christian Smith's long punt return was canceled out by an illegal block. A dead ball personal foul and an unsportsmanlike conduct backed the Rams up to the 9. ... Neville has now won nine straight over the Rams. ... The Bastrop High choir sang the National Anthem. ... Playoff brackets will be released Sunday by the LHSAA.