By T. Scott Boatright
Ruston won the war in the trenches on both sides of the ball with its ground attack blitzkrieging the Benton defense from start to finish as the Bearcats beat the Tigers 56-16 in a Class 5A round two playoff game Friday night on James Field at L.J. “Hoss” Garrett Stadium.
That’s not to say fifth-seeded Ruston dominated the game from start to finish. Benton, the 12th seeded team in Class 5A, caught the Bearcats off guard with a myriad of formations and tempo changes.
But as the game progressed Ruston slowly but surely took control more and more.
“I thought we came out ready to play,” said Bearcats coach Jerrod Baugh. “It took us a little while defensively to settle in on what they were doing. We knew they did a lot of different things offensively. They popped us a few times when we weren’t really ready and caught us with some different formations like some quad formations that we had trouble getting lined up to early in the game.”
After forcing a Benton punt on the game’s first possession, the Bearcats had the entire field in front of them after the punt took a lucky roll down to the RHS one-yard line.
Undaunted, Ruston quarterback Jaden Osborne broke loose for a 17-yard gain and the drive was on. Before it ended the Bearcats had marched 99 yards on 11 plays with Dyson Fields wading his way through defenders on a 14-yard touchdown run that put Ruston up 7-0 at the 5:37 mark of the opening stanza.
But Benton responded with a scoring drive of its own as Beau Wright’s 40-yard field goal cut the RHS lead to 7-3 at the 2:31 mark of the first quarter.
On the ensuing drive the Bearcats got good field position at the Benton 48-yard line after the Tigers were flagged for illegal touchdown on a failed onsides kick attempt. Osborne ran for 13 yards on the first snap before Devian Wilson pinballed his way for 17 yards on the next play.
Fields then broke free on a 15-yard run, fumbling the ball as he was being tackled but being fortunate to fall on the football.
That set up a one-yard scoring plunge by Wilson that pushed Ruston’s lead to 14-3 at the 1:28 mark of the first quarter.
After forcing another Benton punt the Bearcats’ offense went back to work, starting with a 25-yard run by Fields and ending with Osborne looking like he was going to hand the ball off to Wilson, who nearly all the Tigers swarmed to.
Except Osborne pulled the ball back at the last minute and raced 34 yards untouched down the left side, with Brady Beason’s extra point kick stretching the RHS advantage to 21-3 at the 10:38 mark of the second quarter.
Ruston took a 28-9 lead into the locker room after halftime as the Bearcats marched 60 yards on 12 plays with Wilson powering his way to paydirt from three yards out with 57 seconds left in the second quarter.
Benton tried another onside kick to open the second half but the Bearcats recovered the ball and drove 51 yards on seven plays, with Wilson disappearing into a mass of players and then continuing to churn his way to the end zone from nine yards out.
Wilson gave his offensive line much credit after the game ended.
“Without them this offense doesn’t work,” Wilson said of his offensive line. “When I’m in the middle of the pack, I know they’ve got me. They’re going to carry me as far as they can.”
Benton responded with a long drive down to the Ruston 23 when on first down, Walters scrambled and right before being tackled tried to loft a pass to receiver but overthrew him. The pass dropped right into the arms of Ruston’s Ray Owens, who raced the ball back 60 yards for the score to push the RHS lead to 42-9 at the 6:38 mark of the third quarter.
Benton cut into that lead as running back Greg Manning used second and third effort to score on a three-yard run with 2:55 remaining in the third quarter.
“We knew coming in he was going to be hard to handle,” Baugh said about Manning. “The receivers made some really good catches. The quarterback put the ball in some good places and he ran the ball well, too.”
Ruston scored again before the stanza ended as Fields slashed right off tackle and raced 57 yards untouched for a score with eight seconds left in the third quarter that put the Bearcats on top 49-16.
“One of them busts one loose, and then everybody on defense keys on them and that opens things up for the other one to bust one loose,” Baugh said of the Bearcats option attack. “Then we pound with the fullback to open things up even more. Those guys know that. Some nights it’s one guy, some nights it’s scattered because they change up what they do. We’re just going to take what the defense gives us.”
Ruston’s final score came with 6:04 remaining as Wilson again powered his way to paydirt, this time from four yards away.
Ruston heads into next week’s third-round playoff game at fourth-seeded Destrehan, which defeated 13th-seeded Woodlawn of Baton Rouge 29-20 Friday night.
Destrehan defeated Ruston 6-0 in the third round of last year’s playoffs.
“We did a lot of good things and we’ll try to build on that,” Baugh said. “There’s some things we need to correct. We know all too well Destrehan is a really good football team, so we’ll have to be ready to play next week.”
Photo: Reggie McLeroy