Bearcat defense holds off furious Knight rally in electric win

(Bearcat Zheric Hill returns an interception for a touchdown. Photo Credit: Reggie McLeroy)

By Kyle Roberts

It’s not often an offensive pass interference penalty effectively ends a football game.

But for the Ruston Bearcats, it came at the perfect time as a long drive by Lafayette Christian Academy that could have seen the Knights take the lead in the waning seconds instead ended with a 29-26 victory locked up for the home team, making Ruston officially 4-0 this season following Warren Easton’s forfeit of week one’s contest the night before.

“They were a really good football team,” Ruston head coach Jerrod Baugh said about LCA in a postgame interview. “Their quarterback (Ju’Juan Johnson) made some big plays at the end of the game. We couldn’t get our hands on him. But out guys found a way to make plays when we had to, and that’s the main thing.”

Trailing 29-12 going into the fourth quarter, LCA scored two touchdowns in the fourth to cut Ruston’s lead to just three points. And Johnson multiple times in the fourth quarter looked like he was going to lead the Knights to a comeback win before the Bearcat defense held on at the end.

“We wanted to keep him off pace,” Baugh said. “We didn’t want him to stay comfortable. And I know it looked he was comfortable back there. That was the biggest difference between this year and last year for him. We flushed him out of the pocket at times and he made some really good throws and got some big runs. But it kept him off beat.”

Johnson came into Ruston already as an LSU commit, leading an LCA offense that averaged over 40 points per game in the previous three. But Johnson was not prepared for a Ruston defense that picked him off five times in the night, with two interceptions being returned for touchdowns.

Despite the picks, Johnson used both an air and a ground attack to give the defense fits through all four quarters.

Following a scoreless first quarter for both teams, junior linebacker Zheric Hill took a 35-yard interception to the house to give the Bearcats a 7-0 lead with 6:27 to go in the first half. Senior cornerback Jacoryian Crowe picked Johnson off on the ensuing drive with 5:51 to go in the first half which led to an 18-yard touchdown run by junior tailback Jordan Hayes to extend Ruston’s lead to 14-0.

LCA would not go quietly into halftime, however, as junior running back Jalen Noel scored from eight yards away to cut Ruston’s lead to 14-6. Senior cornerback Semaj Jones would block the point-after attempt.

Following a Ruston interception, senior LCA quarterback Ju’Juan Johnson rushed a six-yard touchdown in with :22 left to go in the half. The two-point attempt was no good, and Ruston led 14-12 going into the halftime locker room.

Junior cornerback Aidan Anding would grab his second interception of the night with 11:05 to go in the third quarter, and senior defensive back Ronald Findley would return another interception for over 50 yards for a touchdown, which put the Bearcats up 21-12 with 8:48 to go in the third quarter.

The ballgame became more emotional on both sides as the quarter went on, eventually leading to two ejections.

“At the end of the day, you’re talking about teenage kids playing at a very high competitive level, and it’s hard for them to control their emotions,” Baugh said. “Heck, it’s hard for me to control mine. I thought the officials did a really good job of trying to referee that within the ball game. They don’t all go your way. But I think they did a good job on both sides trying to get that back in hand.

“And I think our guys settled back in along with theirs. Coaches on both sides did a good job of reminding them that we’re out here playing football. And that was good to see.”

Junior tailback Dylone Brooks punched in a two-yard touchdown with 32 seconds left in the third quarter. After converting a two-point conversion, Ruston held a 29-12 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Hayes finished the night with 121 yards and a touchdown. Brooks rush for 70 yards and a score as well.

Ruston returns to action Friday, Sept. 29, at Neville to continue a storied rivalry between the two schools. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and will be streamed on and aired on Z107.5 FM.

“Neville’s a really good football team, and we’ll have to regroup after this,” Baugh concluded. “This wasn’t the Super Bowl tonight or the state championship, and we need to keep that in mind. But I want them to enjoy tonight. But when we show up in the morning, we’ll turn the page on this. There’s a lot of things we need to go and correct and work on. We’ll take it for what it’s worth going into the second half of the season after next week.”