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Ruston defense dominates LCA

Bearcats get five turnovers in big win
Friday, September 22, 2023
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Photo by Bret McCormick Ruston linebacker Zheric Hill (6) runs past LCA quarterback Ju'Juan Johnson for a pick-six on Friday.

Statement made.
The talk of the week ahead of Class 5A No. 5 Ruston’s meeting with Class 4A No. 2 Lafayette Christian was the record-setting season of Ju’Juan Johnson and the explosive element he brought to the table. How were the Bearcats going to stop him? How do you keep pace?
Ruston answered those questions and then some with a defensive performance for the history books in a 29-26 win over the Knights on Friday, with big plays coming from veteran players in the biggest moments.
Five interceptions. Two sacks. Johnson and the Knights looked lost on offense for most of the night.
With the win, the Bearcats are now 4-0 on the season while LCA drops to 3-1.
“They did what the game plan was to try and get him off schedule,” Ruston head coach Jerrod Baugh said of his defense postgame. “He’s a really good football player (Johnson) and it’s just like I said, you’re not going to shut him down. Keeping him off base and make him make throws he normally doesn’t make and our defensive guys played their ass off. They got tired, their defense got tired and we just made the plays we needed at the end.”
Johnson finished 15-of-31 passing for 208 yards, 5 interceptions, and 2 touchdowns. He also ran for 198 yards and a score – setting a career high in interceptions by game’s end.
Ruston’s defense came up big on the Knights’ first drive of the night, with LCA electing to go for it on 4th and long at the Ruston 44. The decision proved to be costly, as Ruston cornerback Aidan Anding intercepted Johnson’s pass to give the Bearcats their first taste of turnover fortune on the night.
However, neither offense could find a groove early, punting the ball away and giving up easy pressure for off-schedule plays. Ruston seized the momentum on its first of two pick-sixes as junior linebacker Zheric Hill read a mesh, fake-draw play from the Knights and took Johnson’s pass attempt to the house from 30 yards out to make it 7-0 Ruston.
“I had the back out of the backfield so when he came out he tried to go inside but he threw the ball low and I stepped up and caught it and went,” Hill said.
On the ensuing series for the Knights, Jacoryian Crowe came up with an interception of his own off a deflection, setting up the Bearcats in excellent field position to extend its lead. Two plays later, Jordan Hayes punched it in from 17 yards out for a 14-0 Bearcat lead.
As the game went on, the Bearcats brought pressure from angles to keep Johnson off balance, forcing yellow laundry to come flying all night. LCA finished the game with 15 penalties for 123 yards, including three flags for holding. They also had their best defensive player — Texas commit Melvin Hills — ejected from the game.
Hill finished with 10 tackles and his pick-six, while fellow linebacker Jadon Mayfield rallied to the ball on every play and finished with 10 tackles as well. Nate Johnson finished with five stops.
LCA got on the board late in the first quarter with a touchdown run from Jalen Noel to make it 14-6. But the Bearcats weren’t willing to give up seven points right away, as Semaj Jones blocked the extra point.
LCA continued to chip away, cutting Ruston’s lead to 14-12 at halftime as Johnson called his own number for a 6-yard touchdown.
At the break, Johnson was 7-of-15 passing for 141 yards, 3 interceptions and no touchdowns.
Anding said he took the assignment of locking down the passing options of Johnson personally.
“When people were saying so much about him and speaking highly of him, it just motivated me the whole week like, ‘oh no, I gotta prove a point. This is my game. This is my show game,’” Anding, who had two interceptions, said. “The other two games I got touchdowns thrown on me. It motivated me because I hate when somebody catches the ball on me. It motivated me.”
His personal mission continued right out of the gates in the second half, with Anding picking off Johnson again over the middle of the field on the Knights’ first drive.
And on the very next drive for LCA, Ronald Findley got in on the fun and returned an attempted screen pass to the house to give Ruston a 21-12 lead with 8:48 left in the third.
Three drives later, Dylone Brooks became a steady workhorse in the backfield with bruiser carries into the heart of LCA’s defense, eventually leading the Bearcats down inside the 20-yard line. Five plays later, the junior found pay dirt and extended Ruston’s lead to 29-12 with just over 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
Hayes finished with 24 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown while Brooks had 16 carries for 69 yards and a score.
But the Knights wouldn’t go down without some late game drama, scoring touchdowns on its next two series with Johnson extending plays with his legs and the Bearcats unable to find leverage on the scramble-drill.
The night began with a defensive stop, so it was only fitting it’d end with one.
With 2:18 left, LCA got the ball and had one last chance to either tie or take the lead starting at its own 29. Johnson’s elusiveness was deadly over the final series, rushing for 35-yard and 10 yard gains to keep the drive going and making fans antsy.
LCA got to within the Ruston 12 with 44 seconds left. Someone needed to make one last play.
The Bearcats got their wish, as junior defensive lineman Payton Bell crashed through the offensive line and sacked Johnson for a loss of four yards to force one last play from the Knights, rather than a potential field goal.
After a pre-snap penalty moved LCA back to the Ruston 21, the Knights’ hopes ended on its final play as a receiver was called for offensive pass interference, sending the Ruston sideline into jubilation.
“Needed a big play to hold them out of the field goal so the sack made it where they had to go for it on fourth down,” Baugh said. “Guys just came up big periodically throughout the ballgame and that’s always good to see.”
Now sitting at 4-0 and putting together its most impressive defensive outing of the season, Ruston heads back on the road for a matchup with Neville. But make no mistake, Friday was the Bearcats' to remind the state they’re still a real threat to make a deep postseason run.
“It’s a statement game but we’re going to let this game stay here leave it in the past and we’re going to keep working,” Anding said. “We’re trying to stack days.”
The Bearcats will hit the road again Friday when they travel to Monroe to renew a heated rivalry with Neville.