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|Rebels, Tigers to meet again|
The Neville Tigers and the West Monroe Rebels will renew their storied rivalry on the gridiron Friday after a nine-year lay off.
Though the two football programs don't compete in district play any longer, Friday night's match-up at Rebel Stadium has the community buzzing.
Just ask Johnny T. Johnson of Monroe and former West Monroe Mayor Bert Hatten.
"The line is 14 ½, West Monroe favored," said Johnson, a Neville graduate who supports his alma mater through thick and thin.
"If you want to take Neville, the odds are 3-1," Johnson said.
That comment prompted a retort from Hatten.
"I would take that bet, but I'm sympathetic toward misguided liberals and the unfortunate ill, many of whom are my dear friends," said Hatten, who served as West Monroe mayor from 1966-1978.
Still, Johnson predicted Neville will prevail against West Monroe Friday night. Kick off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
"The rivalry is starting all over this year," Johnson said. "We're going to beat 'em bad, and we're going to beat 'em every year for now on."
"I won't be embarrassed to cross the river any more," Johnson added.
Historically, Neville holds a 39-7 record against West Monroe, dating to the year West Monroe High School opened its doors in1954.
The two schools are separated by just three miles and one river. Yet, few rivalries throughout Louisiana match the intensity when the two schools meet.
Neville won that first contest in 1954 and dominated it for more than 25 years, winning every contest until 1980. West Monroe would not win again until 1993 when the Rebels beat Neville in a hotly contested contest, 27-20. West Monroe went on to win its first state title in football that year.
Neville won the two following years — in 1994 and 1995 — and took home another state championship in 1995.
Melvyn McCoy, owner of Melvyn's Restaurant in Monroe, was a Neville Tiger back in the day. He played for Neville from 1970-1972 and later at Louisiana Tech University. The 1972 Neville team dominated state rankings en route to a state championship under the direction of coach Charlie Brown.
"I think a lot of people are glad to see them play again," said McCoy, whose restaurant off Oliver Road is a gathering spot for the Neville faithful.
"A team like West Monroe scares you," McCoy said. "Our district is tough but this game will only make Neville better."
West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris remembers when Neville dominated the series and made Rebel players, coaches and fans hungry for a win with each passing year.
"When I was a kid it was the one we wanted to win more than any other," Norris said. "I just hope we don't lose perspective on this game. We are all neighbors and citizens of a great area."
"It should be a real exciting time," Norris said. "Our whole family will be there."
Buddy Aulds, a former player and coach at West Monroe who now serves as principal at West Ridge Middle School, has seen the rivalry from many different perspectives dating to his first action on the field against Neville in 1963.
"It was a huge deal back then," Aulds said. "It was like the city of West Monroe against Monroe."
"I don't think the rivalry is as big of a deal for the kids now as it was for us," Aulds said.
When Aulds became a coach he witnessed the game from a different point of view but says things were pretty much the same.
"As a coach it was just another district ball game back then," Aulds said. "It is still a great game and something that needs to be done to get local teams around here to play each other more."
"It is good for the communities," Aulds added.
West Monroe won each year from 1996-2000 with two of the final three games of the series finding the Rebels winning in blowout fashion. West Monroe posted a 34-0 win in 1998 and a 35-0 victory in 2000 before the series ended following Neville's move to Class 4A. A non-district contract could not be agreed upon between the two schools.
Neville won state championships in each decade from the 1950s-1990s, beginning in 1955. In all, Neville has won eight state championships in football.
West Monroe has won six state titles, the first one occurring in 1993.
Neville and West Monroe also will put national rankings on the line Friday.
The Rebels currently are ranked No. 22 nationally by USA Today, No. 23 by ESPN and No. 25 by Rivals.com.
The Tigers are back in the national spot light this week. Rivals rated Neville the No. 69 best team in the country.
Sam Hanna Jr., publisher of The Ouachita Citizen, contributed to this report.