Big second half lifts Bearcats past Lafayette Christian

Ruston’s Zheric Hill returned an interception for a TD late in the second quarter of the Bearcats win. (Photo by Reggie McLeroy)

by Malcolm Butler

After a first half that saw Ruston struggle to find any offense, Bearcats head coach Jerrod Baugh turned to some special teams surprises to try to ignite his team.

It worked.

Sixth-ranked (Class 5A) Ruston scored three third-quarter touchdowns to defeat fourth-ranked (Class 4A) Lafayette Christian by a score of 35-20 Friday night at Knight Field in the first road game of the season for the Bearcats.

The victory spoiled homecoming for Lafayette Christian. 

“I just thought from offense to defense to special teams this was a really good team win,” said Baugh.

Trailing 14-7 at the break, Ruston opened the second half with back-to-back onside kicks, recovering both and ultimately scoring on the first three drives of the third quarter to grab all the momentum and its third straight win over a Top 10 ranked opponent.

“Going into the ball game we felt we saw some alignments that we liked and felt we could be successful with the onside kick against,” said Baugh. “We have done that several times this year. They didn’t change it so we went ahead and decided to onside kick it. When we came back after we scored off the first one, they didn’t change their alignment so we decided to kick another one. We were fortunate enough to get both of them.

“It’s what we practice. I thought it really provided us a spark to start the second half.”

Dyson Fields led a potent Bearcat rushing attack that amassed 347 yards on the ground, totaling 200 yards and three scores on 31 carries. Fields scored on runs of 2, 20 and 22 yards — all coming in the second half.

Jordan Hayes added 94 yards and one score on nine carries as the Bearcats controlled the clock for 36 minutes of the 48-minute game.

“We knew they were tough inside on the defensive line a lot like the other teams we have played,” said Baugh. “Our guys just continue to keep working. The (offensive line) played a lot better. I didn’t think we played well offensively in the first half with the turnovers. I told the team at halftime that we just needed to execute. The guys stuck with the game plan and continued to play. I thought our running backs ran well and ran hard.”

Lafayette Christian jumped out to a 14-0 lead as quarterback JuJuan Johnson tossed touchdown passes of 32 yards to Dudley Jackson just 19 seconds into the contest and of 35 yards to Alonzo Ryes with 6:22 to play in the second quarter.

The Bearcats struggled to generate any offense in the first half. However, Zheric Hill gave Ruston a late spark right before the half, intercepting a pass and returning it 47 yards for a score as the Bearcats trailed 14-7 at the break.

RJ Brown opened the second half with an onside kick that he recovered, which led to a two-yard TD run by Fields, tying the game at 14-14 less than three minutes into the third quarter. Brown repeated the special teams surprises with another onside kick, once again with the Bearcats recovering. 

This time it was Hayes with the big play, striking pay dirt on a 30-yard scamper for a 21-14 Ruston lead. Fields scored his second TD from 20 yards away late in the third quarter as the Bearcats lead ballooned to 28-14.

Fields put the game out of reach with 6:55 to play in the fourth quarter, scoring on a 22-yard run and a 35-14 RHS lead.

Hill (4 tackles, 1 interception) and Jacroyian Crowe (5 tackles, 1 interception) led the Bearcats defense which was stellar over the final two-quarters of action. 

“That’s what our defense has done for us all season whenever our offense has struggled at times,” said Baugh. “They just continue to play hard and do what they do. Zheric made a huge play that kept us in the ball game. If that had not happened, it would have been even tougher in the second half, but he gave us a spark. I thought our defense really battled and kept us in the game until our offense started to get things going in the second half.”

Ruston returns to action next Friday when they host longtime rival Neville. Kickoff at Hoss Garrett Stadium is set for 7 p.m. 

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