Devin Neal delivers 3 scores, Lions secure 39-27 win over Saints

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Lawrence High senior Devin Neal (4) celebrates his touchdown with teammate Ben King (17) Friday night at St. Thomas Aquinas. The Lions handed the Saints their first home loss since 2017.

Overland Park — Devin Neal of Lawrence High and Tyron “Tank” Young of St. Thomas Aquinas traded impressive runs all night on Friday in a game that was billed as a battle between two of the top running backs in the state — and that lived up to the hype.

But it was Neal and the Lions who came away with the bragging rights in the end, as Lawrence High (No. 1 in Class 6A) led all night in a 39-27 win. It was Aquinas’ first home loss since Sept. 15, 2017.

“It is absolutely huge,” Neal said of the matchup between two of the top teams in the state. “It felt like a playoff-type game, with two really good teams battling against each other.

“Hats off to the St. Thomas squad over there,” he added. “It was just an awesome game. That’s a tough group of guys, and they are just really talented.”

Neal, the top-ranked prospect in the class of 2021, may have lauded the skills of the Aquinas squad, but he also established himself as the toughest and most talented player on the field on Friday. That was never more obvious than during Lawrence’s final drive of the fourth quarter.

After Aquinas (4-1) cut Lawrence’s lead to just 6 points with 7:26 left in the game, Neal took matters into his own hands. The Lions (5-0) marched down the field with a 12-play, 68-yard drive to effectively ice the game.

Neal, who is committed to play at KU, touched the ball on all but two of those plays. He finished things off with a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth and 1 with 1:52 left to play.

“I was willing to put the team on my back and do what I had to do,” Neal said. “I’m a senior leading the team, and that’s what I was supposed to do.”

Neal finished with 150 yards and three scores on 29 rushing attempts, which was especially impressive after he tweaked his oblique in the team’s win over Bishop Carroll. The injury limited him late in the game and even sidelined the talented senior for the entire fourth quarter.

Yet Neal was back in practice by Monday in preparation for the Aquinas matchup.

“I knew I was going to have to step up with a great defense that they have,” Neal said. “It was huge for me to recover myself and get back on the field.”

Lawrence took complete control out of the gate on Friday by scoring 20 unanswered points in the first quarter. And both the offense and defense deserve credit for the early advantage.

Aquinas fumbled the ball on the second play of the night, and it was quickly recovered by senior linebacker Blake Schimmel to give the LHS offense great field position. Two plays later, Neal sliced through the Aquinas defense for a 10-yard touchdown run.

The Saints didn’t have much more success on their second possession, which eventually led to a short punt. The Lions got the ball on their own 47-yard line and marched down the field in a hurry with a 7-play scoring possession.

Senior Jackson Dooley linked up with senior receiver Tre’ Jackson for a 25-yard connection over the middle, setting up an easy 3-yard touchdown run by Neal for an early 14-0 lead.

But the Lions weren’t finished yet.

LHS senior linebacker Karson Green sniffed out an option by Aquinas on the first play of the third drive. Green delivered the big hit to cause another fumble, and he quickly jumped on the loose ball. Moments later, Lawrence grabbed a 20-0 advantage at the 5:30 mark in the first quarter on a 2-yard touchdown run by senior Graham Hough.

“Our defense was magnificent early in the game,” LHS head coach Steve Rampy said. “Overall, I thought it was a really great effort by our guys.”

It was all Aquinas for the remainder of the first half, however, thanks to a pair of methodical double-digit play drives that led to two much-needed touchdowns for the hosts. Both second-quarter scores were recorded via quarterback sneaks by sophomore Maxwell Ford.

Young, a senior running back, shouldered much of the workload on those two lengthy drives. The 5-foot-7, 181-pound all-purpose back carried the ball 23 times in the first half alone en route to 115 yards.

It proved to be an interesting battle between two of the more dynamic running backs in the state. Young was more of a bruiser, often needing multiple LHS players to bring him down. Neal, meanwhile, has a knack for making defenders miss in space and delivered many of his signature cuts on Friday.

Lawrence’s offensive line — Noah Smith, Acen Villegas, Porter Dannevik, Lane Luna and Drew Meyer — created plenty of running lanes for Neal.

“It was huge because of their defensive line,” Rampy said. “Going into the game, they said you can’t do that against their defensive line, and we did. It’s because we like our offensive line a lot. That should give them loads of confidence.”

Still, the Lions turned to the air when they needed key plays in the third quarter to hold off the Saints.

With its lead down to just a touchdown at the half, LHS scored on its opening trip in the third quarter. Dooley delivered a 46-yard touchdown strike to senior receiver John Green. The 2-point conversion failed, but the entire sequence was a sign of things to come.

The Saints once again pulled within a score in the final minute of the third quarter. The Lions responded immediately: Dooley dropped a 38-yard dime to Jackson on the final play of the third period to give the visitors a 32-21 advantage entering the final frame.

Neal then took care of the rest, and the Lions secured their biggest win of the 2020 season.

“The key was playing as hard as we can,” Neal said. “Being the best team that Lawrence High can be.”

Lawrence High will host Olathe North next week.

Lawrence 39, Aquinas 27

LHS | STA

First downs 17 | 14

Rushes-yards 34-153 | 52-187

Passing yards 175 | 147

Total offense 328 | 334

Fumbles-lost 0-0 | 3-2

Interceptions 0 | 0

Penalties-yards 5-60 | 7-69

Score by quarters

Lawrence 20 0 12 7 — 39

Aquinas 0 14 7 6 — 27

Individual statistics

Rushing

LHS: Devin Neal 29-150; Graham Hough 3-5; Tre’ Jackson 2-(minus 2). Sacks 0-0.

STA: Tank Young 36-146; Xavier Horn 4-8; Maxwell Ford 7-18; Sean Carroll 3-10; Jeremiah Penney 2-5. Sacks 0-0.

Passing

LHS: Jackson Dooley 11-for-21 for 175 yards

STA: Maxwell Ford 5-for-11 for 147 yards.

Receiving

LHS: Tre’ Jackson 3-62; Devin Neal 1-14; Ben King 2-12; John Green 3-67; Ntense Obono 2-20.

STA: Jeremiah Penney 2-41; Evan Kammerer 2-100; Xavier Horn 1-4.

HOW THEY SCORED

First quarter

10:30 — Devin Neal 10 run. Connor Gellender kick good. (LHS 7, STA 0)

5:30 — Neal 3 run. Gellender kick good. (LHS 14, STA 0)

4:56 — Graham Hough 2 run. Gellender kick blocked. (LHS 20, STA 0)

Second quarter

10:18 — Maxwell Ford 1 run. Matt Seibolt kick good. (LHS 20, STA 7)

3:29 — Ford 1 run. Seibolt kick good. (LHS 20, STA 14)

Third quarter

7:29 — John Green 46 pass from Jackson Dooley. Conversion failed. (LHS 26, STA 14)

1:04 — Evan Kammerer 39 pass from Ford. Seibolt kick good. (LHS 26, STA 21)

0:00 — Tre’ Jackson 38 pass from Dooley. (LHS 32, STA 21)

Fourth quarter

7:32 — Young 2 run. Conversion failed. (LHS 32, STA 27)

1:52 — Neal 1 run. Gellender kick good. (LHS 39, STA 27)

COMMENTS

Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.