COLUMN: Second-round nailbiters recent pattern for Bearcats

By T. Scott Boatright

Patterns repeat themselves in history, wrote author Rick Riordan in “The Last Olympian.”

Pay attention and sometimes it suddenly becomes visible —  patterns on top of patterns, patterns affecting other patterns, patterns hidden by patterns, patterns within patterns.

And in the end, one oft-found pattern is that history does nothing but repeat itself.

That could be a hopeful omen for the 2023 Ruston Bearcats football team.

RHS football coach Jerrod Baugh wasn’t surprised by the challenge presented by 18th-seeded Westgate Friday night before his No. 1  Bearcats were able to escape with a 20-18 win over Westgate in second-round play of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s Division I Nonselect School playoffs Friday night at L.J. “Hoss” Garrett Stadium. 

But nailbiting second-round showdowns are nothing new for the Bearcats.

Go back to last year’s round two contest, where Ruston didn’t receive a wake-up call until late, trailing Ouachita Parish High School 13-7 at halftime before the Bearcats roared away in the final 24 minutes for a 37-16 over their District 2-5A rivals.

While Ruston’s 56-16 second-round blowout of Benton in 2021 didn’t fit the pattern, and no kinds of patterns existed in the crazy COVID season of 2020 when Ruston defeated Hahnville 42-17 in round two after trailing 3-0 early in that contest.

In 2019, it was Ruston that made it a second-round surprise as the 20th-seeded Bearcats earned a home game after stunning Dutchtown the previous week before rolling to a 21-13 win over East Ascension in another close second-rounder.

One of the closest and craziest second-round playoff games for RHS came in 2018, when Ruston had to break up a two-point conversion pass attempt in double-overtime to outlast Alexandria Senior High 61-60.

All of those games resulted in a second-round playoff win for Baugh’s Bearcats. 

Ruston’s last second-round postseason loss came in 2016 as the Bearcats missed a field goal attempt on the game’s final play to fall 23-21 at Hahnville.

But thrilling second-round football playoff patterns for the Bearcats go back much further than that, long before Baugh, for the Bearcats.

Take Ruston’s undefeated 1984 Class 4A state-championship run for example.

In what was the Bearcats’ closest game of the season, Jessie Winzer’s eight-yard scoring scamper with 1:39 remaining proved to be the game-winner as the Bearcats defeated Southwood 14-7.

Ruston’s Michael Brooks-led defense played a key role in that second-round thriller as the Cowboys moved inside the RHS 10-yard line three times in that contest without coming away with any ponts.

The only pattern for the undefeated 1990 state champion Bearcats was sheer domination as Ruston blitzkrieged through the 4A playoffs that season, outscoring opponents 200-27.

The Bearcats opened postseason play by blasting Barbe 42-0, before defeating Natchitoches-Central 41-0 in the second round before moving on to defeat  Baker 38-14, Thibodaux 27-3, and then blowing past a Catholic team that included standouts of its own such as Warrick Dunn 52-10 for the championship.

The Bearcats have set a third-round winning pattern of reaching the quarterfinals the past three seasons with a 49-31 win over Denham Springs last year, a 24-10 victory over Dutchtown in 2021 and a 42-26 defeat of Ponchatoula in 2020.

Ruston dropped its 2018 and 2019 third-round contests, but this year’s RHS players  have only tasted victory since moving onto the high-school playing field.

The Bearcats look to continue that winning pattern on Friday as the Bearcats play host to Walker on T.L. James Field.