By Kyle Roberts
One more kickoff at “The Hoss” this season.
Regardless of tonight’s outcome, it will be the final chance to watch this 2023 Ruston High football squad put the pads on and walk up the ramp from the Chick Childress Fieldhouse.
And they’ll make that trek with one thing on their mind: a possible repeat trip to the Super Dome to bring home the Division I, Non-Select crown.
But first, a Cinderella story in the making: No. 21 Mandeville, who has been throwing points on the scoreboard this postseason like nobody’s business and has now gotten to the semifinals for the first time in school history.
The Bearcats won’t be going anywhere if the Skippers come to town and spoil Ruston’s run.
“They are another really good football team,” Ruston High head coach Jerrod Baugh said. “It’s kind of for them a tale of two seasons. They swapped quarterbacks late in the year to somebody who has a great feel for the offense; even as a sophomore. He seems to operate their offense really well, and it’s amounted to them scoring a lot of points, and their running back having a lot of yards.”
Baugh is referring to sophomore quarterback Ben Hendricks and senior running back Nate Sheppard, who has totaled 32 touchdowns this year.
“They’s got a big offensive line in front of them that does a good job, and the coaches do a good job of scheming up defenses to give him the best opportunity to win,” Baugh said of Sheppard. “They’re going to try to get him the ball in the a variety of ways.”
Mandeville was 4-4 on the season before winning their next five straight games, including going to Bossier last week and knocking off No. 4 Airline 56-50.
Ruston is hosting its second consecutive semifinal playoff appearance at home after defeating Zachary last season 37-22 to secure the Bearcats’ first trip to New Orleans since 1998. Baugh spoke to how important this is for his program.
“I think it’s big,” Baugh said. “Before the season started, there were a lot of people just throwing us into the state championship, and that put a lot of pressure on our kids. And I put a lot of pressure on our kids, and probably, too much so early on. But I knew what our possibilities were and tried to make it a reality check. I thought we should be making a run for a state championship, if we maximize what it is that we’re doing on a daily basis. And they have accepted that challenge.
“Last year, I think there were some expectations, but people were like “Yeah, Ruston ought to be good, but let’s just wait and see.” This year, people were saying that we ought to be there. Let’s see how they handle it. And they have absolutely accepted the challegne and done what they needed to do.”