After a late interception ended High’s upset chances of then-undefeated Hazelwood Central High in last year’s state championship semifinal game, Durron Neal was almost inconsolable.
The De Smet superstar wide receiver/running back/kick returner/and defensive back, had just played one of the most incredible games any area performer ever had, but it was an off-target pass that a Central corralled by a Central defender which ended the Spartans’ season.
“I’ve been thinking about that for a whole year,” Neal said. “We’ve all been thinking about it, and working this whole offseason, because we knew we we’re going to play them again. And we wanted to be ready.”
And boy were they ever, as De Smet completely dismantled Hazelwood Central, holding the Hawks to just 53 total yards and three first downs Friday night at LaBarge Stadium, in a dominating 28-0 win for the Spartans.
“I feel very good obviously,” De Smet head coach Pat Mahoney said. “Anytime you beat Hazelwood Central by 28 points you feel very good. Just like every first game we had a lot of bumps and a lot of personnel issues. It's good to have them now, and especially in a win.”
And Neal, considered the No. 1 player in the area and one of the top wide receivers in the country, was a key factor in the Spartan victory, scoring three touchdowns to break open what was a closely contested game otherwise.
“He’s a great player, and he made some great plays against us,” Hazelwood Central coach Van Vanatta said. “But we really just made too many mistakes. A couple of blown assignments here, we blew a coverage on the touchdown. If we don’t make those mistakes, it wouldn’t have been a 28-to-nothing game.”
Neither team could score or even move the ball much in the first quarter, but Neal and quarterback Conner Harrison hooked up early in the second to give De Smet the lead.
Harrison floated a pass deep into the endzone that seemed destined to be intercepted by Central’s Matt Quarrells.
But Neal somehow managed to maneuver around Quarrells, leaped high into the air and brought down what became a spectacular 23-yard touchdown catch for the Spartans.
“I told (Harrison) anytime you're in trouble just look up and I'm going to get it,” Neal said with a smile. “I'm going to get it for you and I'm going to save you. I'm going to make you look good.”
A couple minutes later, Harrison hooked up with James Placht on another 23-yard scoring strike that gave De Smet a 14-0 halftime lead.
The backbreaker though for Central, was Neal’s 27-yard score midway through the third quarter.
The 6’1, 195-pounder broke free on a corner route and hauled in a Harrison pass between two defenders.
But when the Central secondary converged on Neal, he spun away from two defenders, broke free from a third, and dove across the goalline before another pair of Hawks could bring him down.
“There’s a reason why he’s rated so high,” Mahoney said. “He’s an unbelievable player and he does some unbelievable things sometimes.”
Neal capped his night with a 10-yard touchdown run late in the third, that along with teammate Thomas Kalish’s fourth successful PAT gave De Smet its final 28-0 edge.
Next week, the Spartans will be on the road, taking on Hazelwood East High, on Saturday, September 3.
The Hawks will also play on Saturday next week, they’ll be hosting their first home game of the year, against .
Both of those Saturday games are slated for 1 p.m. kickoffs.
D: Durron Neal 23 pass from Conner Harrison (Thomas Kalish kick), 8:31
D: Jamie Placht 23 pass from Conner Harrison (Thomas Kalish kick), 6:27
D: Durron Neal 27 pass from Conner Harrison (Thomas Kalish kick), 9:40
D: Durron Neal 10 run (Thomas Kalish kick), 3:55