It’s finally come down to the last four teams in the Non-Select Division I playoff bracket.
And thanks to earning the top seed, the Ruston Bearcats will play the semifinal matchup tonight against the Zachary Broncos at James Field at “Hoss” Garrett Stadium in front of what is expected to be an electric crowd and community atmosphere cheering on the red and white.
“It’s really nice to be at home,” Ruston head coach Jerrod Baugh said. “The kids did a great job in the regular season earning an opportunity to host a semifinal game. To me, that’s the only bonus coming in as high of a seed as we did, which earns you an automatic home game in the semifinals for your school and community. I’m really proud that the kids have earned that opportunity.”
Ruston made its way back home following a chaotic win over the Denham Springs Yellowjackets last Friday by a final score of 49-31 that saw a Yellowjackets team sting its way back up from a 21-0 deficit late in the first half. The Bearcats proved too much in the second half by keeping Denham Springs out of reach for the remainder of the night to reach the semifinals for the first time in 23 years.
For Zachary, the Broncos finished with the No. 5 overall rating in the playoffs and won their contest last week against Southside from Lafayette, La., by a final score of 48-37. The Broncos are the reigning 5A state champions and have won three titles in the last six seasons. In 2019, the Broncos got past the Bearcats in Ruston in the quarterfinals 35-27 with a controversial ending that saw the clock run out while the officials sorted out whether Ruston scored a touchdown that could have potentially sent the game into overtime.
“A lot of people that may be intimidated by the big atmosphere that we will likely see here (tonight),” Baugh said. “That’s not what you’re going to see from that group. They’ve been a part of a lot of semifinal games and championship games. They’ve got kids on that team who have played in the Superdome. They’re not going to be overwhelmed by the situation. They’re going to play four quarters. Whatever happens at the beginning of the game depending on who has the lead, they’re not going to ease up. It’s going to be a four-quarter ball game for them and hopefully us. Since we are playing at home, we’re going to be comfortable with that situation, but we’ve never been in this situation where you need to win this ball game to make it to the state championship, and they have. They’re comfortable with all of that.”
Ruston defensive coordinator Kyle Williams suited up for the Bearcats in 1999, the last time Ruston made it to the semifinals, and talked about the team approach heading into tonight.
“It’s the same things it’s been all year when we’ve played really good football teams,” Williams said. “The things it requires to win this game is the same that were required to win those games. Not your emotion, but your focus. Make sure you know what you’re doing and playing one play at a time. They are a good football team with good football players. They are going to make some good plays, but you can’t let one good play turn into two good plays, or a scoring drive or a long series. Really, to me, we’re going to have to focus that way and do our job. And no matter what comes up, we’re going work through it and make adjustments if we need to. And play each play for what it is.”
Kickoff between Ruston and Zachary is set for 7 p.m. and will be broadcast live on KPCH 99.3 FM with the Jerrod Baugh show starting at 6:30 p.m. The live videostream will be available at BearcatNationNetwork.com.
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