By Kyle Roberts
The old adage is “a tale of two halves.”
That was certainly the case Friday night as the Ruston Bearcats turned a 7-7 tie at the half into a 35-7 blowout thanks in part to rushing touchdowns, a recovered blocked punt in the end zone, and a 100-yard interception return by senior corner back Semaj Jones for a score.
“I feel like our kids had not played with a lot of emotion for a game and a half,” Ruston head coach Jerrod Baugh said, referencing Ruston’s opening night loss last week to Warren Easton. “We played okay in the first half here, but not really excited. And I tore them up pretty good at halftime. And we made mistakes in the second half, but what they found out is that if you play hard and play with emotion, you can overcome some of the mistakes that you make. And that’s exactly what we saw.
“The team we saw in the second half is the team that we need to see for full ball games.”
After multiple first half turnovers, Ruston and Jesuit would go into halftime tied at 7-7, and the momentum seemed to be at the back of the Blue Jays.
The Bearcats, however, benefited from junior Jordan Hayes’ second touchdown of the night with 3:59 to go in the third quarter from 55-yards out to go up 14-7– the first of four straight, unanswered touchdowns by Ruston.
Junior cornerback Aidan Anding would recover a blocked Jesuit punt in the end zone just a few minutes later in the quarter to go up 21-7.
Junior running back Dylone Brooks would get his first touchdown of the 2023 season with a 10-yard rush with 5:25 left to go in the ball game for a 28-7 lead.
The proverbial icing on the cake, however, came when Jones returned his 100-yard interception as Jesuit had appeared to be putting together another good drive.
Baugh added that the emotion helped lift the defense up for the second half shut out.
“They know they weren’t playing well in the first half,” Baugh said. “And we can blame the long ride, and we can make excuses, but if you’re going to win football games, you have to play well. Hopefully, we’ve learned that lesson and we can put four quarters together moving forward.”
In the first half, Ruston would hit pay-dirt first with a five-yard touchdown rush from Hayes for his initial score of the night with 10:52 left to go in the first half.
The Bearcats appeared to be in control as Jesuit had struggled mightily in the first quarter to run the football as Ruston rushed for 104 yards while holding the Blue Jays to a goose egg in the rushing column in the first quarter.
The Blue Jays, however, completely turned the running game around and rushed for 110 yards on 24 carries by three different backs and the quarterback into halftime. Senior quarterback Beau Perez rushed up the middle on a keeper for a 16-yard touchdown rush at 6:17 left to go in the second quarter.
After Jesuit recovered the onside kick, their drive was stalled by a critical interception deep in the red zone by senior cornerback Semaj Jones near the Ruston 15-yard line. Hayes would appear to score a 77-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive, but an offsides penalty brought it back.
Hayes finished the night with 147 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Senior Will Fendley connected on all five of his PAT’s, while seniors Nate Johnson and Jadon Mayfield led Ruston with eight tackles each.
Ruston will return to action on the road again next week– this time to Cabot, Ark. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and can be streamed live on BearcatNationNetwork.com and listened to on Z107.5 FM.