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Bearcats defeat Mandeville, advance to state championship
Friday, December 1, 2023
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Photo by Josh McDaniel Ruston senior Geordan Guidry unofficially ended with 3 sacks against Mandeville in the Division I non select semifinal.

Before the 2023 season began, the Bearcats knew what the expectations were.

Make it back to New Orleans and win a state title in the Caesars Superdome.

Lofty? You bet. Penciling in back-to-back trips to the state championship after the program went decades of missing out on the final dance? That’s easier said than done.

But when the clock hit zero Friday night at a packed Hoss Garrett Stadium, No. 1 Ruston (13-0) achieved the first half of its grand mission and advanced to the Division I non select state championship after defeating No. 21 Mandeville 28-7.

“The kids I thought did a really good job dealing with the pressure that a lot of people put on them, including me,” Ruston head coach Jerrod Baugh said. “I probably put the most pressure on them to be able to get out and continue to work and keeping short-term goals in mind while trying to get to the long-term goal of going back and finish with another opportunity to win a state championship. I think the kids have come out really focused on what it is we need to take care of during the week."

The Bearcats established their will early and often in the first half in all phases, with Jordan Hayes and Dylone Brooks punching in touchdowns, Josh Brantley throwing a precision touchdown pass to Jamar Woods, Ruston’s defense forcing four punts and a missed field goal, and a big punt return from Nate Johnson as well.

Brooks got the scoring started on the second possession of the night on a 7-yard touchdown only for Hayes to follow it up on the next Ruston series with a 24-yard score – with just over a minute of game clock coming off in between.

On the next Ruston drive after that, on 3rd and 18, Brantley threw a 26-yard touchdown through two defenders to Jamar Woods in the back corner of the end-zone to give Ruston a three-score cushion at halftime.

Baugh said the Bearcats’ ability to handle business and execute this season, despite projections putting Ruston in a deep playoff run before any ball was kicked off, is a credit to coaches and players.

They know the job is not done until it’s done.

“We had a lot of people that jumped us ahead to the state championship because we had so many guys returning but there’s a lot of things you gotta do on the way there and it’s hard for kids their age to stay focused on those small goals but I think they did as well as what kids at their age can do,” Baugh said.

Mandeville had no answer against Ruston’s stout defense outside of a 34-yard touchdown catch and run late in the third quarter, punting seven times on the night, along with a missed field goal.

Ruston unofficially ended with over six sacks, including 3 from Geordan Guidry, 2 from Payton Bell and 2 from Ahmad Breaux to harass Mandeville quarterback Ben Hendricks. Mandeville ended with 179 yards of offense.

“We felt good about the matchups that we had up front and we knew it was something we needed to be able to do to put some pressure on them, and particularly you get a lead and they’re forced into doing some things offensively that they’re not comfortable doing,” Baugh said.

In case Ruston’s defensive dominance wasn’t clear enough, Mandeville came in averaging 49 ppg in the postseason, led by running back Nate Sheppard. The junior totaled six touchdowns and 263 rushing yards in a quarterfinal upset over Airline last week. He finished with 62 yards and 0 touchdowns.

Hayes outpaced the Skippers himself with 184 yards and 2 touchdowns, with his second score coming midway through the third as Ruston's icing on the cake. Brooks went over 100 as well with 102 yards and a touchdown. Brantley put up 88 total yards and his passing touchdown.

Now, Ruston has a shot at redemption.

Ruston will face the winner of No. 6 Zachary or No. 7 Dutchtown in the Division I non select state championship on Saturday, Dec. 9, at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.