First half mistakes doom Bearcats


By T. Scott Boatright

Sometimes it’s the little things that can cost a football team in a big way and let a game get away from them in a hurry.

Playing in a game that was hyped like a boxing bout between heavyweight champions over the past week, the Ruston Bearcats slipped and got knocked down several times in the opening half as West Monroe rolled to a 42-14 regular-season finale win at L.J. “Hoss” Garrett Stadium Friday night.

West Monroe’s win gave the Rebels (6-3 overall and 4-1 in District 2-5A) a share of the 2021 district crown along with the Bearcats (8-2, 4-1) and Ouachita (7-3, 3-1), which went on the road and took a hard-fought 28-22 win over Pineville Friday night.

Ruston hasn’t defeated West Monroe since the 1990 season, and RHS head coach Jerrod Baugh admitted that the hype and enormity surrounding the showdown between two Top 10 teams may have gotten to his Bearcats.

“We’re not used to this atmosphere and I think that played into it a little bit,” Baugh said. “But I don’t want to blame that. I thought we had some good practices during the week and expected to play well behind that, but that just didn’t happen. I’ll put some thought into it overnight and see what we might need to change going into next week as we begin the playoff run.”

Three lost fumbles and 11 penalties for 80 yards in losses also played a big role in the Bearcats’ loss.

After reaching only the West Monroe 49-yard line on the game’s opening drive, Ruston looked like it was going to get the ball back after forcing the Rebels to prepare to punt a fourth-and-seven at the Ruston 47.

But an offsides penalty before the punt snap was made gave a first down to the Rebels, who then continued marching downfield with West Monroe quarterback Hayden Frederico bouncing off attempted tackles and pinballing his way to paydirt on a 13-yard scoring scamper at the 3:39 mark of the first quarter to put WMHS up 7-0.

Two plays into the ensuing RHS drive, West Monroe forced a fumble as Ruston quarterback Jaden Osbourne was hit hard and the Rebels returned the recovery to the Bearcats’ one-yard line.

Three plays later, after the Rebels had lost five yard due to a penalty, fullback Haikeem Buckley bulled his way up the middle on a four-yard touchdown run to push the West Monroe lead to 14-0 with 1:42 remaining in the opening stanza.

Ruston coughed the ball up again on a Dyson Fields’ fumble two plays into the ensuing drive and this time it took the Rebels six plays to score as Rayshawn Pleasant, a Louisiana Tech commitment, took a pitch and tightroped his way down the right sideline to push the West Monroe advantage to 21-0 at the 9:56 mark of the second quarter.

Ruston drove as deep as the West Monroe 24-yard line on the next possession, thanks largely in part to punter Brady Beason, who dropped a punt snap but picked it up and scurried 13-yard to the Rebels’ 48-yard line.

The Bearcats continued the drive until three straight penalties cost them 39 yards and forced them to punt the ball from their own 41.

West Monroe took over with 4:08 remaining in the first half and drove downfield to score on a one-yard quarterback sneak at the 1:24 mark of the second quarter that gave the Rebels a 28-0 halftime advantage.

“Just about everything,” said RHS coach Jerrod Baugh when asked about what went wrong during an onfield radio broadcast interview following the contest. “We came and didn’t play well at all in the first half. I thought we came out with a little juice in the second half and got a little bit of momentum, but when you give a really good football team that big of an early lead, it’s really hard to come back because they continued to play and execute better than we did.”

But Ruston came out and for a while made a game of it in the second half, scoring its first touchdown with 4:30 left in the third quarter when fullback Devian Wilson burst up the middle on a 19-yard scoring scamper.

After holding the Rebels to a three-and-out and forcing a punt, Ruston again marched 75 yards for a score with Wilson doing the honors again on a three-yard run with 13 seasons remaining in the third quarter to cut West Monroe’s lead to 28-14.

But West Monroe regained control in the final 12 minutes, pushing the lead to 35-14 on a four-yard touchdown run by Pleasant with 6:07 remaining.

The Rebels added one last touchdown with 39 seconds remaining.

Despite being frustrated by the loss, Baugh was pleased with the way his team came out and fought in the second half, especially in the third quarter.

“You always like to see that, particularly if you haven’t played well in the first half,” Baugh said. “Had we started the game playing like we did in the second half, I feel like things would have been at least a little bit different. At any rate, the lack of execution and just not playing very hard in the first half cost us. We didn’t match (West Monroe’s) intensity at any rate. We’ll have to get back to work today, see who we’ll play on Sunday and just keep pushing forward.”

Baugh was also pleased with the home crowd that gave RHS its first sellout contest in years.

“I appreciated the crowd,” Baugh said. “I think our team deserves that. What we need to do is support these kids through the playoff run. We’ve got five ballgames left and I expect to see that support continue not only at home but also when we hit the road in the next couple of weeks.”

Osbourne led the Bearcats with 91 rushing yards on 15 carries while adding 21 yards through the air on five-of-eight passing.

Wilson added 85 yards on 14 rushes while Fields carried the ball 19 times for 70 yards.

Now Baugh and the Bearcats turn their attention to next week’s home playoff game. The Bearcats will find out who they will face when the Louisiana High School Athletic Association playoff brackets are announced on Sunday.

“You always like to win a Week 10 game going into the playoffs,” Baugh said. “I wanted to win this ballgame just as much as everybody else. But the fact of the matter is you don’t have to win every regular season game to win a state championship, so we’ll turn our focus from a district championship to the state championship. Hopefully the guys will come in (today) ready to get back to work. I guess I need to do a better job of getting our football team ready to play.

“There’s always things you learn and can work on. Obviously we’ve got a lot of things we need to work on and pull together as a team going into the playoffs.”

Photo: Reggie McLeroy

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