By Malcolm Butler
They call him The Jet.
And tonight, he showed why.
Jordan Hayes rushed for 249 yards and three touchdowns – including the game-winning 83-yarder with just over four minutes to play – to lead No. 4 ranked Ruston over No. 10 ranked West Monroe 35-28 at Don Shows Field at Rebel Stadium.
With the win, Ruston (10-0, 5-0) won its second straight outright District 2-5A title and will be the No. 1 seed entering the Non-Select School Division I Playoffs. The official brackets will be announced Sunday but the Bearcats will get a first round bye.
Win No. 10 on the season didn’t come easily for Ruston.
“I am at a loss for words right now,” said Ruston coach Jerrod Baugh. “I am very proud of our kids to continue to fight and not get rattled. They seemed to be very comfortable in the position (of being in a close game). A lot of that is because we have played some very good football teams, and we have been there before. We didn’t flinch. I am very proud of them.”
With the two teams tied 14-14 at halftime, the Rebels (8-2, 4-1) answered an early third quarter touchdown by Ruston with back-to-back scores. Rebel quarterback Hayden Federico gave West Monroe its only lead of the night at 28-21 with a 50-yard run with 5:03 to play in the third quarter.
Baugh said he wasn’t surprised at how tough the game proved to be.
“I don’t know where everyone got the idea that it would be a blowout,” said Baugh. “West Monroe came out and had a really good plan in all three phases of the game. Our kids kept battling, not that their kids didn’t. But we made some plays late that won it.”
After Federico’s go-ahead score for the Rebels, Ruston would answer … just like it has time after time this season.
On the ensuring possession, Josh Brantley hit Logan Malone for a 23-yard TD in the back corner of the endzone to tie the game at 28-28 with 1:48 remaining in the third quarter.
The Bearcats special teams made an impact play in the fourth quarter with Aidan Anding blocking a 32-yard field goal attempt by Rebels kicker Davis Long that would have given West Monroe the lead again.
After both teams had possessions that ended in punts, Ruston took over on its own 17-yard line following a Rebels punt with just over four minutes remaining in the game. On the first play from scrimmage, Hayes took the handoff, ran off right guard, hit a hole, outraced the Rebels defenders and tight roped the sideline for the 83-yard go-ahead score.
Hayes rushed 17 times for 249 yards and scored on runs of 83, 75 and 51 yards.
“Jordan was really excited about the opportunity to play those guys and a chance to make some big runs,” said Baugh. “We felt they would send a bunch of guys to crowd the line. They moved some guys around to try to throw off our blocking, but we knew if Jordan could get to second level he had a chance.
“It was aggravating at times because he would get one yard, two yards, minus one yard … but we stayed consistent and stayed with it. That was our plan, and it worked.”
West Monroe had one final chance to tie or take the lead. Playing without any timeouts remaining, the Rebels moved past midfield. But on a third down and eight, the shotgun snap sailed over the head of Federico who finally recovered the ball way back on the Rebels 25-yard line.
On fourth down and 40, Federico completed a 15-yard pass underneath, but the Bearcats took over on downs and ran out the clock.
Brantley completed 9 of 17 passes for 122 yards and two TDs, including a 5-yard strike to Zhy Scott that gave Ruston the early 7-0 lead.
Federico led West Monroe with 53 yards rushing on 14 carries and one score while Kedrian McNeil added 62 yards and one score on the ground. Federico was 14-of-22 for 185 yards and one score.
Ruston won despite the fact the Rebels had the ball for almost 31 of the 48 minutes.
Zheric Hill led the Bearcats with nine tackles while Ronald Finley and Jadon Mayfield each registered seven tackles each. Jacoryian Crowe recorded an interception, the only turnover of the night by either team.
The Bearcats will have an open date next weekend during the first round of the playoffs.
“It will be a week off, but we have some things we need to get done,” said Baugh. “They need a little bit of rest but there are some things we need to clean up going into the playoffs.”