This Best of the LPJ for 2022 story was originally published on December 10, 2022.
By T. Scott Boatright
NEW ORLEANS — The tears flowed fast and hard following Ruston’s 17-10 title game loss in the Division I Nonselect School championship game in Caesar’s Superdome..
So should hope for the future.
No, the Bearcats didn’t win their first state championship since 1990. But they did play in their first championship game since 1998.
And yes, Ruston losing a number of longtime impact players, including three-year starting quarterback Jaden Osborne, powerhouse running back Dyson Fields, hard-hitting defensive end Jamious Blackmon and wide receiver Aaron Jackson, who returned to Ruston after spending his junior season at Neville and helped give the run-oriented Bearcats one of their better passing attacks in years.
But Ruston is also jam-packed with talented underclassmen led by junior linebacker/fullback Jadon Mayfield, who was named the Bearcats’ title game MVP after totaling a team-best nine tackles against the Wildcats.
They will also return other outstanding talent on the defensive side of the ball including junior defensive linemen Ahmad Breaux and Geordan Guidry, junior strong safety Nate Johnson and sophomore linebacker Zheric Hill.
“This loss hurts, but we’ll be back,” Mayfield said during the postgame press conference.
Senior kicker RJ Brown expressed his belief in the younger players he’ll be leaving behind on the gridiron.
“I’m just going to start off by saying this loss hurts,” Brown said. “It hurts really bad. But I have so much confidence in this team next year, it’s just tremendous. That’s all I’ve got.”
Fields did the same during his moment at the microphone.
“I want to give Destrehan a shout out for winning the state championship,” Fields said. “They came out and did what they needed to do to win. But this team will come back next year better.”
Blackmon thanked the RHS coaching staff for the guidance they gave to the senior Bearcats.
“I just want to thank the coaches,” he said. “They helped turn some of us into full-fledged leaders. Things may not have turned out the way we wanted them to, but next year this team will rise to the occasion and will be celebrating.”
RHS coach Jerrod Baugh talked about the way his team overcame a slow start, including their only regular-season loss in the opener against Warren Easton, and determinedly marched to the state championship game for the first time this century.
“You know, this season started with a scrimmage against Byrd and we didn’t play very well and we heard some comments around, I’m not going to say our community necessarily, that we’re not going to be a very good football team,” Baugh said.
“But these kids put their heads down and went to work and trusted what their coaches would tell them to do and trusted in the fact that if they showed up and did the work required of them, they’d be a good football team and turn into a good football program. And I love them for that.”
Baugh said it was a special team to have bonded together as well as with their coaches and make it all the way to the Superdome.
“They did absolutely everything we asked them to do,” Baugh said of his Bearcats. “You could just see it throughout the season and how we grew and bonded together. We changed a lot of guys thinking about how you go about doing things and leaning on each other, trusting each other.”
Baugh also expressed confidence in the lives his seniors will go on and live.
“There’s no better feeling than as a coach watching a group of young men bond together and lean on each other, trusting each other and growing together,” Baugh said.
“It’s going to be a great group of guys again after they leave. They’re going to be great dads, productive people in the community and that’s really what I was most proud of. Losing one football game doesn’t define who they are as a person, it doesn’t define me as a person.”
And while the seniors will depart down the walk of life, Baugh reminded them they’ll always be his Bearcats.
“We’re going to hurt for a while – it hurts whenever you put in that kind of work. But at the end of the day, losing a football game can’t change who we are,” Baugh said. “I know who these kids are. They’re great people and again, I love them and they know no matter how old they get I’m here for them .
“I’ve had the same phone number for 25 years, and I ain’t going nowhere, guys.”
The Bearcats have too much talent not to bounce back. The young Bearcats have now experienced what it’s like to play in a state championship game.
And the next step, the future step, is to use the talent they’ll return to fulfill their goal of taking state.