By T. Scott Boatright
The Ruston Bearcats were on a mission Friday night and used trench warfare to accomplish their goal.
Ruston’s lines dominated on both sides of the ball as the top-seeded Bearcats defeated Zachary 37-22 to advance to the state championship game against Destrehan next Friday night at the Caesar’s Superdome in New Orleans.
The Bearcats won this one in the trenches.
Ruston outrushed the Broncos 309 yards to 84 and while pressuring and pounding Zachary’s three quarterbacks throughout the game, knocking starting Eli Holstein out of the game early in the fourth quarter, sending a pair of backups into the game late.
But the domination in the trenches probably showed most on the game clock and on the final stat sheet, which saw Ruston possessing the ball for 31:12 overall compared to 16:48 for the Broncos.
“We knew we needed to control the line of scrimmage,” Baugh said. “It was tough-sledding in there early on. I thought Zachary had a good game plan — their guys did a good job but I think our guys up front got after it and wore them down.”
But that wasn’t easy.
Not against the Broncos, whose lines on both sides of the ball were noticeably bigger overall than the Bearcats.
“We were outmatched size-wise in some areas, but our guys handled it pretty good,” Baugh said. “When you just keep plugging sometimes you end up chipping away at them and I think that’s what happened.”
The Bearcats averaged 5.8 yards per carry. Offensive line coach Chad Reeder said those numbers are something his players have been working toward since last spring.
“These kids have been working for this moment — putting in the work every week,” Reeder said. “They’re self-motivating and come ready to work every day. They’re just some guys that don’t mind grinding in the trenches. I told them just a couple of weeks ago, ‘Hey guys, what we have to do is to play above our ability down the stretch.’ I told them I needed three games with them playing above their ability.
“And now we’ve got two of them down. One more to go. But these guys can handle it. They play as a unit. They love to get out here and practice, and I’m going to challenge them this week to just continue what they’ve been doing, find another gear and be ready to go next Friday night.”
Reeder said a turning point for the Bearcats’ offensive line came during a week three win.
“We had two games this year where we rushed under 40 yards,” Reeder said. “If you go all the way back to the jamboree we rushed for about 36 yards. And then a few weeks later, against Cabot (Arkansas), we rushed for under 40 yards.
“From that point on these guys have taken on the challenge. They understand what their role is going to be for us to get where we want to go. I know it sounds a little cliche’ but it’s won in the trenches, on both sides of the ball. That’s the reality of this game.”
Ruston’s defensive line harassed Zachary quarterbacks throughout the contest in addition to shutting down the Broncos’ running game.
Bearcats defensive coordinator Kyle Williams was pleased with his players’ efforts.
“Our defensive line played great,” Williams said. “Really, I think our whole defense played really, really, well. We had a couple of issues there at the end of the game giving up late scores. I’d like to see us finish stronger. But when it was on the line with the playmakers Zachary has, the defensive line did a really great job of getting after them and helping us win tonight.”
Williams, a former Bearcat himself who went on to star at LSU and for the NFL”s Buffalo Bills, said while he’s proud to be headed to New Orleans with them, the state championship berth is all about the players.
“I’m excited to do it after being here and playing here myself years ago, but all of that really takes a backseat to what I feel about our kids, because they work so hard,” Williams said. “We challenged them a lot and they responded to every opportunity they had.
“It’s just a really great night to be a Bearcat.”