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September 30, 2007Los Angeles (Calif.) Venice running back Curtis McNeal may be small, but the 5-foot-6 180-pound future Trojan was still strong enough to carry the Gondoliers to a 41-35 win against Oaks Christian Friday night.
Leading the way with five touchdowns, including a game clinching 49-yard pick for six, McNeal first-thought he lost the game for Venice.
Down by a touchdown late in the third quarter, Venice was forced to punt deep in their own territory. While the Gondoliers had roared back from a 28-9 halftime deficit, McNeal gave Oaks Christian an early Halloween treat by bobbling the ensuing punt.
A few plays later, Lions quarterback Chris Potter made Venice pay with a quarterback sneak for the score. With the wind knocked out of Venice's comeback hopes, Moody McNeal was feeling blue.
"I was like, 'Wow, I killed it . . . I killed it'," said McNeal. "I just kept telling my team, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry'. But we kept fighting and came back with the win.
"You just play. You play with instinct, heart and desire, so that's what I did. I played with heart, desire and passion."
McNeal made up for his mistake. Rushing for a game-high 186 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries, McNeal scored the game's final two touchdowns, including the game winner as a cornerback.
"My coach told me to get in (the receiver's) face, but I didn't want to because I knew they were going to run the out," said McNeal. "I just backed up and Chris Potter threw it right to me, so I picked it and took it to the house."
The interception for a touchdown capped off a tremendous fourth quarter comeback.
"We've been preparing for this game all year," said McNeal. "This game let everyone know we could play, just like the Birmingham game will. I wanted to win this game so bad - we just had to.
"In the first half we started to fight each other, but at half time we came out holding hands. We started to put it together and we just started rolling. Coach told us to come together, and that's what we did."
McNeal, who committed to USC in March after rushing for more than 2,000 yards in 2006, looked at Friday's win as a career highlight.
"I proved that I can be a good running back just like Darrell Scott and all of those other guys they name over me," said McNeal, whose run for 667 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. "I proved that no matter how small I am, I can play running back too.
"This was my biggest win ever."
And while McNeal admitted to feeling the need to carry Venice in the fourth quarter against the Lions, he gave credit to his teammates for helping him to an undefeated record this season.
"We were very confident that we were going to win," said McNeal. "In the first half it didn't seem like we were, but in the second half we came through.
"Yeah, I felt that (I had to carry the team), but without my teammates none of this would happen, so we came together."