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Cats make it look (Big) Easy

Ruston mauls Mandeville 28-7 to earn return trip to Superdome
Sunday, December 3, 2023
Cats make it look (Big) Easy

Junior running back Dylone Brooks works his way into open field against Mandeville Friday night. Photo by Josh McDaniel

Cats make it look (Big) Easy

Ruston senior defensive end Geordan Guidry crushes Mandeville quarterback Ben Hendricks for a sack in the second half of Friday night’s Division I semifinal. Guidry had two of Ruston’s six sacks on the night. Photo by Josh McDaniel

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-toback 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 endzone to give Ruston a three-score cushion at halftime.

Meanwhile, the Ruston defense lived up to its billing, forcing Mandeville — which scored 50 points twice in three playoff games coming into Friday — to punt on four straight possessions in the first half.

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.

Once RHS extended its lead to 28-7, the defensive line pinned its ears back and went to work on Skippers’ quarterback Ben Hendricks.

Ruston unofficially ended with seven sacks, including 3 from Geordan Guidry, 2 from Payton Bell and 2 from Ahmad Breaux to harass Hendricks.

Mandeville ended the night with its lone touchdown and 179 yards of total 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 points per game 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 zero touchdowns.

Hayes clearly won the battle of the running backs, going for 184 yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns. Brooks added 102 yards rushing on 14 carries with a touchdown.

Ruston will face the winner of No. 6 Zachary and No. 7 Dutchtown in the Division I Nonselect state championship on Saturday at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.

Zachary and Dutchtown were postponed Friday night due to weather and resumed Saturday with Dutchtown leading 28-13 in the third quarter.

The Cats will attempt to right the wrong of last season’s heart-breaking loss to Destrehan 17-10 in the championship game.