Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Bearcats celebrate early Thanksgiving

Ruston outlasts East Ascension in old-fashioned playoff slugfest
Sunday, November 24, 2019
Article Image Alt Text

            Ruston High School sophomore fullback Devian Wilson (24) drags two would-be East Ascension tacklers into the end zone for the Bearcats’ final score in a 21-13 Class 5A second-round playoff win over East Ascension Friday night at L.J. “Hoss” Garrett Stadium.

In a game of old school, smashmouth football, Ruston High School borrowed a line from late former Oakland Raiders head coach and owner Al Davis’s playbook Friday night.

“Just win, baby!”

The Bearcats did just that in a second-round Class 5A playoff game against East Ascension, doing just enough in the rain to hold on for a 21-13 win to advance to the quarterfinals round of the playoffs for a second-consecutive season.

Ruston, the No. 20 seed in Class 5A, will now celebrate Thanksgiving in winning fashion on Thursday before playing host to fifth-seeded Zachary at 7 p.m. next Friday at L.J. “Hoss” Garrett Stadium.

The wet conditions made things tough on both teams, with Ruston having to overcome two fumbles on muffed punts — one of which resulted in a touchdown for the Spartans — to extend their playoffs stay.

“We did just enough to win,” said RHS head coach Jerrod Baugh after the game. “We gave them two punt returns, and it’s tough to overcome that against a good football team. That’s something we need to clean up, but our kids never got rattled and made some good things happen later on.

“I’m pleased with how our defense played and our guys are figuring out how to do enough to win a ball game.”

The game at times looked like a heavyweight championship bout, with both teams trading big punches and still coming back for more.

Ruston junior running back Deontre Griffin (2) led the Bearcats with 81 rushing yards and a score on 16 carries.

East Ascension’s defensive front made it tough for the Bearcats’ rushing attack early on, but it was still Ruston that landed the first blow as RHS senior quarterback Jaden Procell hit junior running back Ke’Travion Hargrove on a screen pass in the right flat.

Hargrove calmly danced his way upfield, patiently waited for his blockers to set up a hole before kicking on the afterburners and outracing East Ascension defenders for a 69-yard touchdown with 7:45 remaining in the first quarter.

“We thought we could screen them because they’re really aggressive up front and (Hargrove) was able to dodge some guys and make some plays. We try to get the ball to the playmakers and let our guys up front work on their guys up front. Hopefully we won’t see another front (as big as East Ascension’s). But I know whoever it is they’ll be good.”

Ruston gambled on a fourth-and-four later in the first quarter but failed to convert, giving the ball to East Ascension at the Spartans’ 25-yard line.

Ethan Bagwell took over for East Ascension from there, sprinting 57 yards down the right sideline on first down to set up his 3-yard touchdown run off right tackle to tie things up at 7-7 with 2:25 remaining in the first quarter.

Ruston took that punch and got back up swinging, with Procell hitting Hargrove on a comeback screen for an 11-yard gain and a first down.

After an RHS incompletion, Hargrove turned in another big play as he made a double-spin and several stop-and-go moves during a 51-yard run down to the East Ascension 19-yard line.

After a delay of game penalty pushed the ball back five yards, Ruston sophomore fullback Devian Wilson burst 23-yards up the middle to set up Hargrove, who slashed left into paydirt from two yards out to put Ruston back on top 14-7 at the 11:22 mark of the second quarter.

“I knew that while (East Ascension’s defensive line was) fresh early on, it was going to be tough to move the ball,” Baugh said. “But we knew if our defense could hold on and not give up any scores, we’d be OK. We were able to get some balls out on the screen pass and get the ball in the end zone, so that worked out well. I knew if we just kept banging in there it would wear on (the Spartans) and they might end up wearing out, and that’s what ended up happening.”

After a RHS muffed punt return fumble set East Ascension up at the Ruston 47-yard line, Spartans quarterback Cameron Jones went to work, rushing for 22 yards and completing an 8-yard pass before firing a laser 14-yard scoring strike to Jyrin Johnson with 6:13 left in the second quarter.

But the Bearcats were able to maintain a lead after the point after touchdown kick attempt was tipped. The ball slowly lofted end over end, arching down and hitting the crossbar dead in the middle before bouncing out in front of the end zone to allow Ruston to hold on for a 14-13 advantage.

East Ascension got another scoring chance early in the second half on another muffed punt return fumble by the Bearcats that set the Spartans up at the RHS 44-yard line.

But after nine plays East Ascension had only moved down to the Ruston 25 before Jones was hit and fumbled the ball forward. Senior Camdyn Crowe pounced on it to give possession back to the Bearcats.

“Our defense ended up setting in,” Baugh said. “We gave (East Ascension) two punt returns we put on the ground, with one resulting in a score for them. But you expect that with a wet ball, and our kids never really got rattled by it. They just kept playing hard and made some good things happen in the end.

“I thought our defensive line did a good job of getting some pressure on (Jones). We were blitzing some. We knew going in to the game that if you let him get comfortable in the pocket, he can complete some balls, but if you push him out of the pocket he’s not as good. We were able to do that.”

Jones ended up completing 8-of-19 passes on the night for 66 yards, but was sacked four times on the night.

Seniordefensivelineman Ja’Raylon Burks led RHS with two sacks while junior defensive lineman Jalen Penegar and junior linebacker Jordan Williams adding one each.

Ruston would begin its final scoring drive late in the third quarter, with Procell hitting Crowe on an 18-yard diving catch along the Ruston sideline shortly before the final stanza began.

This diving 18-yard reception by Ruston senior Camdyn Crowe helped set up Ruston’s final score of the contest.

Ruston continued the drive — with Hargrove heading to the sideline with what appeared to be a shoulder stinger — and moved into the red zone when on third down and 20 yards to go, junior runningback Deontre Griffin took a draw play up the middle for 38 yards down to the East Ascension 4-yard line.

“We knew out of that formation that we lined up in … they were loosening up the front so that’s why we ran the ball in there,” Baugh said of Griffin’s big run. “They lined up just like we wanted them to. That was obviously a big play.”

Griffin said it was simply his time to show he’s another one of Ruston’s playmakers.

“I was the next man up and I had to step up for my team,” Griffin said. “That run took a lot out of me, but all that matters is we got the job done.”

After runs for no gain and a loss of three by Griffin, Wilson got the call on third and goal and bulled his way up the middle, dragging a pair of would-be tacklers into the end zone to put Ruston on top 21-13 with 7:23 remaining.

From there it became a game of Ruston trying to milk out the clock. After forcing a quick punt by East Ascension the Bearcats got the ball back with 6:10 remaining on the clock.

Three straight runs by Griffin went for nine yards, and on fourth and 1 Baugh sent Hargrove back into the game.

Hargrove picked up three yards and a first down to allow the Bearcats to keep the clock running in their favor.

When asked if he had any worries about putting Hargrove, who had left earlier due to injury, back into the game for such a big play, Baugh was quick to answer.

“No. If I put him in, I don’t mind giving him the ball,” Baugh deadpanned.

The Bearcats then went back to their third playmaker — Wilson — who turned in runs of 5 and 17 yards to help run out the clock.

Griffin led Ruston with 81 rushing yards on 16 attempts while Hargrove added 67 yards on 17 carries.

Hargrove also led Ruston with his two catches for 80 yards.

Ruston will quickly return to work preparing for Zachary, but reaching the quarterfinals for a second straight Thanksgiving weekend is something Baugh relishes.

“We’re getting to where we enjoy it — that’s something we ought to look forward to every year,” Baugh said.