Bearcats show depth in strong showing vs. Rebels

Ruston sophomore Lander Smith led the Bearcats with 72 receiving yards in Friday night’s 14-0 Bayou Jam win over West Monroe at Rebel Stadium. (Photo by T. Scott Boatright)

By T. Scott Boatright

WEST MONROE — Next man up.

Jamboree football games are always good to show where a team’s starting lineups stand heading into season openers.

But they can also provide a glimpse of depth a team has heading into a season opener.

And it’s for that reason that Ruston High School’s 14-0 victory over West Monroe in Bayou Jamb 2023 action Friday night at Rebel Stadium was an all around winning effort for the Bearcats.

Not only did Ruston’s starters look dominant despite having multiple close scoring plays called back, but multiple young Bearcats showed they’re ready and capable to step into key roles and provide solid play if called upon.

Ruston’s Semaj Jones had a long interception for a score called back on a questionable pass interference call. 

And RHS junior Dylone Brooks had multiple big runs on a second-half drive, including down near the goal line on which it looked like he might have scored. On the last play of the drive, however, a Bearcat rusher had the ball stripped shy of the goal line, and the Rebels recovered for a touchback.

But after holding the Rebels to a three-and-out series on the ensuing possession, Ruston’s Jordan Hayes broke free to the left on a 12-yard scoring scamper to push the Bearcats’ lead to 14-0.

“The thing is, what you want is, regardless of how it ends up being called because of things out of our control, continuing the play is the big thing,” said RHS coach Jerrod Baugh. “So I was glad to see our guys line back up and get back after it after some of those things happened. That was the main thing.”

After the game Brooks, who led the Bearcats with 77 yards on 10 carries, admitted that he didn’t cross the goal line on that play discussed by the referees before they ruled Ruston had turned the ball over.

“I wish I had scored, but I got tripped up at the 2 and fell short,” Brooks said. “I’ll get it the next time. I’m just glad I could contribute. I’m ready. I’m just trying to get ready for that next game and show the coaches I’m there if they need me.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but this was a good start.”

Baugh said having a second strong running back — the Bearcats averaged 8.0 yards per carry against the Rebels — was something good to see in the jamboree.

“It’s very big,” Baugh said of knowing he has a strong corps of running backs to call on. “I thought Dylone was really close a couple times of busting loose there. But he couldn’t tell where the guy was behind him and ended up getting tripped up before he got in. 

“But I think those two work very well together, and it’s always good to have at least two of those guys back there (at running back).”

Bearcats’ sophomore Lander Smith showed he could become a key role in Ruston’s passing attack, hauling in both of Ruston’s receptions for 72 yards.

“He was a really young player last year,” Baugh said about Smith. “We’re expecting him to do more this season — make some big plays like that. We got that tonight and we’re going to have to have that during the season.”

Smith had a long reception of 56 yards from junior quarter Josh Brantley, who Smith credited with helping add a little extra yardage to the play.

“I felt good out there,” Smith said. “I’ve got to get a little more speed, so I’ll work on that, but it felt good out there. I got a good block from my quarterback on the long one that helped me get some extra yardage.”

Brantley finished with the two completions on six pass attempts while adding 32 rushing yards on three carries.

“I think he settled in real tonight and that’s a big deal — to get your first time as a starting quarterback in this kind of situation at West Monroe and I thought he handled it really well,’ Baugh said of Brantley’s night.

Ruston’s Jack Elliott made both of his extra point tries, and Baugh said the junior kicker will only get better as he gains experience.

“I think we struggled a little bit on the kickoffs keeping them inbounds, and that’s just something where we’re trying to get them into some spots,” Baugh said about Elliott’s night. But again, he’s never gotten any snaps in a big deal like this, so tonight was really good for him. He’ll grow from that and hopefully we’ll learn to get the ball where we’re trying to place it.

“We asked him to do a lot tonight, too, so we’ll continue to work on those things.”

Baugh credits communication with the Ruston Junior High football program for the success the Bearcats have had at being able to consistently continue to restock their offensive back over the past six or seven years, at least.

“I think we’ve done a good job of matching things up with our systems from junior high on up so that we’ve been able to have some guys who are ready to move in there when we need them,” Baugh said. “You don’t see those big dropoffs like you do at a lot of other places.

“We’ve been fortunate to have some guys who are really good to be able to move into those spots and take on that role when needed and hopefully we can keep that going.”

“We had quite a few young guys make some big plays on special teams,” Baugh said. “We’ll go back in and evaluate the video and really get a good look at those guys.”