By Kyle Roberts
Friday night in the Natural State just to our north saw a hard fought defensive struggle initially followed by another Ruston High Bearcat offensive explosion in the second half that included a 99-yard touchdown drive for a 28-17 win over Cabot High.
Ruston started the second half ahead of Cabot 10-0 before giving up a long kickoff return to senior Cabot wide receiver Hayes Cox that had a penalty tacked on for extra yardage, setting up the Panthers on first-and-goal from the 8 yardline. Cabot’s Keegan Vest would punch in a touchdown to cut the lead to 10-7 with 11:00 to go in the third quarter.
The Bearcat offense responded shortly after, setting up a 39-yard field goal for senior kicker Will Fendley for the Bearcats to extend the lead to 13-7.
“It’s a good thing that we responded when we needed to,” Ruston head coach Jerrod Baugh said. “That’s what good teams are supposed to do. We’ve got to do a better job on kickoff coverage and not put the defense in a bad situation.”
The highlight of the night, however, came on the ensuing Ruston offensive drive. After being backed up to their own 1-yard line, the Bearcats strung together two pass plays where separate receivers hauled in one-handed catches.
On second down and eight, junior quarterback Josh Brantley threw a jump ball 38 yards down the field to freshman wide receiver Ahmad Hudson, who made a staggering leap over multiple Cabot defenders for a the one-handed grab and first down.
“That’s pretty big out of a 14-year-old freshman to be able to make a play like that,” Baugh said. “Of course, you look at him; he needs to be able to make those plays. People see he’s already got a couple of scholarship offers at his age. He’s got some things to work on, but he’s got that natural ability.
“I thought our coaches did a good job at halftime where they saw some things in their coverage where we were going to be able to take advantage and made the plays.”
On the next play, Brantley found senior wide receiver Zhy Scott over the middle for second one-handed catch for a 60-yard touchdown can. Brantley connected with Scott on the two-point conversion to give Ruston a 21-7 lead.
Brantley went 5-of-6 in the third quarter with 140 yards through the air and a touchdown.
“I think it took him a little while to settle in,” Baugh said. “We didn’t throw the ball very much early on and he missed some targets early on; you can’t get in a rhythm that way. Then once he finally got in his stride, we made some plays midway through the second quarter. And then for sure in the second half. I thought the receivers helped him out. He put some balls where they needed to be, where only our guys could get to the ball.
“They made the plays, and that’s what you have to do.”
Senior tailback Dylone Brookes would add a four-yard touchdown run with 0:52 left to go in the third.
Cabot would score 10 in the fourth, but it would not be enough as Ruston came away with the 28-17 win.
The first half saw multiple opportunities for the Bearcats as the Panthers struggled to move the football, only getting their initial first down with 3:49 to go before halftime.
Ruston’s senior Semaj Jones, who has played hero multiple times already this season for the defense, made a big tackle to end the first half as Cabot was finally able to put a solid drive together and threatened to cut into the Bearcats’ 10-0 lead.
Baugh added that he was pleased with how the team played overall, despite missing some opportunities in the first half.
“I think the enthusiasm was good,” Baugh said. “We didn’t take advantage of good field position in the first half with the offense. But like I said earlier, I was really pleased that the kids responded whenever they had to.
“I think that’s the sign of a good football team.”
Ruston returns to action Friday, Sept. 22, at 7 p.m. against Lafayette Christian for a non-district home matchup.