By Kyle Roberts
All season long, Ruston High football had shown why it deserved to be considered as one of the top teams in the state of Louisiana.
And now, the top-seeded Ruston Bearcats will be heading to the Superdome next Friday night after defeating the No. 5 Zachary Broncos in the semifinals handily by a final score of 37-22.
“These kids have earned every bit of it,” Ruston head coach Jerrod Baugh said. “I want them to enjoy tonight, and then we’ll get back to work in the morning, just like we always do and try to put together a game plan for what we want to do. We’re going to try to simulate as much as we can to see what the Superdome is going to be like. It will be brand new for our kids, but you’d rather have that opportunity than not.”
Ruston’s ground offense took complete control of the ballgame early, keeping the ball out of the hands of Eli Holstein, the starting quarterback for Zachary and a commit for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Ruston led in time of possession in the first quarter by 9 minutes, 30 seconds, compared to just 2:30 for Zachary.
Early in the second quarter, senior tailback Dyson Fields scored his first touchdown of the night from 11 yards out with 11:54 to go before halftime.
Zachary answered shortly after with a run from Cameron Stewart off the outside edge from eight yards out to tie the game 7-7 with just over nine minutes left in the second quarter.
Ruston regained the lead 10-7 with a 33-yard field goal by senior kicker RJ Brown with 3:21 to go before the end of the first half.
The Bearcat defense once again shone on the following Bronco drive, forcing a three-and-out to get the ball back to Ruston near midfield. At one point of the drive, Ruston faced a 2nd down and 34 and needed to get to the Zachary 21 for a first down. Senior quarterback Jaden Osborne showed his mettle by completing passes to both junior wideouts Jamar Woods and Logan Malone on the ensuing plays to get the first down. The throws set up another Fields touchdown rush, and Ruston took a 17-7 lead into the halftime locker room.
“Our kids believe in what we’re doing,” Baugh said about the long down-and-distance before the touchdown. “(Offensive coordinator Earl) Griffin and the other offensive coaches try to put together plays to utilize the things our kids can do well. I don’t think they try to dream up a lot of things that may look good on a marker board; they’re trying to utilize what the strengths of our team are and what our kids’ abilities are.”
Ruston would go on to extend the lead after a ball that was rushed in by junior fullback Jadon Mayfield, who dropped the ball that would be recovered by tight end Zhy Scott for the touchdown to put Ruston up 23-7 with 6:23 to go in the third quarter.
The Bearcat defense would answer the call again and forced the Broncos to punt just a minute later. Osborne answered with his legs, rushing 64 yards to the house to put Ruston up 30-7 with 3:48 left in the third stanza.
Zachary answered with a touchdown pass to cut the lead to 30-14 near the end of the third quarter. As the fourth quarter started, however, sophomore Jordan Hayes showed his ludicrous speed on a 66-yard touchdown run to put the game ultimately out of reach. Ruston would go on to win by a final score of 37-22.
Once the final horn sounded, Bearcat students, fans, coaches, former players, and community members all rushed out to the field to celebrate the historic night. Baugh took a minute to reflect on just how special the night had been for the community.
“It’s a very special moment,” Baugh said. “God is good, all the time. I knew at some point we were going to be able to get this football program back where it belongs. It’s not necessarily yearly deal; you don’t know how they all are going to end. And I mean when I say, for all the kids that have come through this football program, they are a part of this, too. They bought into me and what it is that we needed to do to in order to win ballgames. And they set the tone for what things needed to happen. I appreciate the kids that have come through just as much. And there are some coaches that have been here, too, that have gone on to do different things, or gone on into administration or head coaches at different schools that are just as much part of this as the current staff is. I appreciate all of those people; it isn’t about me. There’s a lot of moving parts in a football program, and I’ve got a lot of good men that have been here coaching and still here. I appreciate the work that the kids and the coaches have put in.”
Osborne had a tremendous night at quarterback, throwing 9-of-12 passes for 89 yards and rushing for 70 yards with a touchdown.
Fields finished with 98 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Hayes finished with 115 yards and a touchdown.
The Bearcats will travel to New Orleans for a 7 p.m. kickoff against No. 3 Destrehan Friday, Dec. 9 in the Caesar’s Superdome. It will be Ruston’s first trip to the state title game since 1998 and its chance for the first state title since 1990.