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

Playoff road begins for Bearcats

Westgate brings talented roster to town for second-round battle
Friday, November 17, 2023
Article Image Alt Text

Ruston begins its playoff run tonight at home against Westgate, with both teams featuring talented running backs, including Jordan Hayes (0) for the home team. Photo by Josh McDaniel

If No. 1 Ruston (10-0) wants to make it back to New Orleans for another shot at a state championship, it starts tonight against a talented Westgate team.

After earning the top seed and first-round bye in the Division I Non-select playoffs for a second straight season, the Bearcats return from their break with focus on Westgate, a team known for its deep playoff runs and upsets in recent years.

The No. 16 Tigers (7-4) won the Class 4A championship in 2021, knocking off top-seeded Edna Karr along the way, and followed it up with a run to the Division I Non-select semifinals last season after taking down No. 2 Neville in the quarterfinals.

History like that, no matter if they’re the 16 seed or not, keeps Ruston head coach Jerrod Baugh on alert that tonight’s matchup isn’t some give-me game.

“The only thing that I know is they’ve been a really good football team in the past,” Baugh said. “I believe they put Neville out of the playoffs and then beat Warren Easton in the finals two years ago. I had talked to their coach the week that they beat Neville and I was searching for games and I had called them looking for a game and they were full, and that’s when we found Warren Easton.

“I look at it as a situation where three or four of our ballgames could have gone the other way if you look at it like that and we could be 6-4 just as easily,” Baugh continued. “That doesn’t mean, in my opinion, we’re any worse of a ball team where we’ve found ways to win those games for one reason or another and I think that’s the situation they’re in. It doesn’t mean they’re not good. They failed to find a way to win those games at the end when they needed to, but they’re a really good football team.”

Westgate didn’t even attempt a pass in its win over No. 17 Terrebonne 27-10 in the first round on Nov. 10, with cold and rainy weather conditions forcing the hand of play calling from Westgate head coach Ryan Antoine. But when you have a tailback like Tavias Gordon, it might not matter.

The junior put up 158 yards on 22 carries in the win over Terrebonne and has close to 1,800 yards and 30 touchdowns on the season.

Like Ju’Juan Johnson at Lafayette Christian, Baugh said you can’t completely shut down an athlete like Gordon – the Bearcats have to try and contain his impact on the game.

“I don’t think we stop him,” Baugh said. “ I think we’re going to have to find some ways to get him on the ground to make them line back up and do everything over again. We’re going to need to tackle really well because he’s one if you don’t get him tackled he can take it to the house and it don’t take long. Teams like that that have those really fast guys that can get out and score the ball you gotta be able to either get them close to the sideline and get them knocked out of bounds or get them tackled and make them do it over and over again and hopefully the consistency kicks in then and hopefully we’re more consistent than they are at that point.”

The stars don’t stop with Gordon as Westgate features one of the top players in the entire country in junior athlete Jaboree Antonie, a five-star prospect who will play defensive back at the college level but serves as the Tigers’ quarterback. Antonie is rated as a top-25 player in the 2025 class and has offers from Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, and Texas, among others. He’s been injured and missing from the lineup since a mid-season loss to Calvary Baptist and may return for tonight’s game.

On the defensive line, senior De’Myrion Johnson has committed to LSU as well. He’s a 6-4, 285-pound physical dominator at the line of scrimmage.

The Bearcats have dynamic athletes of their own, including junior tailback Jordan Hayes who put on a show his last time out with 249 yards and 3 touchdowns against West Monroe. In the Bearcats’ five district contests, Hayes rushed 71 times for 686 yards and 10 touchdowns (9.7 yards per carry).

And for as good as Hayes has been, he’ll now have a chance to recover in between plays with the return of fellow junior Dylone Brooks to the backfield, with Baugh confirming Brooks has been cleared to play after recovering from a multi- week injury.

When the Bearcats don’t lean on their ground game, junior quarterback Josh Brantley will look to keep his district momentum going in the postseason. In five district games, Brantley threw for 469 yards and 7 touchdowns, while rushing for 297 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Ruston’s defensive stars lived up to the billing in the regular season as well, with senior linebacker Jadon Mayfield racking up 83 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery, while his running mate Zheric Hill put up 83 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception, and 1 fumble recovery. Senior defensive end Geordan Guidry totaled 42 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and a forced fumble in the regular season.

With both teams boasting top athletes and postseason experience, how does Baugh feel about his team entering the postseason this time around with a similar track ahead of them as the top seed coming off a bye?

“Probably eerily similar I guess in the way that it is,” Baugh said. “I guess maybe somewhat in a better position in the way that the brackets are set up this year in the way that we know if we continue to win, we’ll have home games, so you don’t have those things that come with a road trip. That’ll be nice knowing from week to week. I just know we’re playing at home.”

Ruston takes on Westgate tonight at 7 p. m. at Hoss Garrett Stadium.