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Zachary holds off Ruston, 35-27

Sunday, December 1, 2019
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Leader photo by T. SCOTT BOATRIGHT
            Ruston offensive lineman DJ Woods (60) lies on the turf with the top half of his body across the goal into the end zone as his left hand touches the helmet of Bearcats quarterback Jaden Procell (middle of the pile) on the final play of Ruston’s quarterfinals playoff loss to Zachary Friday night at L.J. “Hoss” Garrett Stadium. No whistle stopped the play before the final horn sounded to end the game.

Football is a game of inches.

The Ruston Bearcats were reminded of that the hard way Friday night.

A furious rally attempt was called a fraction of an inch short of the goal line on the final play as Zachary walked off James Field at L.J. “Hoss” Garrett Stadium with a 35-27 win in Class 5A quarterfinals playoff action.

Ruston senior quarterback Jaden Procell tried to score on a quarterback sneak from two yards out on the final play, with his helmet clearly crossing the goal line on the play. The pile of players involved on the play kept grinding and battling for position along the goal line for well more than 15 seconds with no whistle blown to end the play before the final horn sounded with no touchdown signal from game officials.

That sent the Broncos into celebration mode, while most of the stunned Bearcats on the field for that final play could only sit and stare in disbelief, realizing they hadn’t gotten a chance to try to stop the clock and run one more play.

“It’s tough,” said RHS coach Jerrod Baugh after the game. “I thought the play could have been stopped with nearly 20 seconds still left on the clock and that we could have gotten another chance.”

That said, the Bearcats had their chances. RHS junior running Ke’Travion Hargrove looked to have scored his fourth touchdown of the night on a 42-yard run moments earlier, but officials determined he had stepped out of bounds on the Zachary 26-yard line.

The Bearcats had taken over for their final drive after Zachary turned the ball over on downs just outside the Ruston 40-yard line.

But that final offensive possession for the Broncos was extended after the Bearcats had originally stopped Zachary on a three-andout situation deep in ZHS territory before a roughing the punter call against RHS gave the Broncos a first down and more critical time to milk off the clock.

Despite the frustrating finish, Baugh said he was proud of that way his team kept coming back.

“It’s what they’ve done all season,” Baugh said about the way his team kept fighting back. “We put ourselves in some binds earlier in the season and got down to some really good football teams and battled back.

“I got in there and halftime and challenged our guys at halftime to battle back, and they did. I’m really proud of this football team. They’ve got a lot to be proud of.”

Cross country season recently ended for Louisiana high schools, but this game started more like a track meet, with the teams combining to score on the first five possessions of the contest.

Zachary marched 80 yards on nine plays on the opening drive with Keilon Brown hitting Chris Hilton on a 20-yard scoring strike to put the Broncos up 7-0 at the 8:22 mark of the opening stanza.

But it didn’t take long for the Bearcats to get going as Hargrove burst up the middle on a 59-yard scoring scamper to tie things up 7-7 with 7:33 left in the first quarter.

Zachary then mounted another long drive, with Jayden Williams hitting Charles Robinson on an 11-yard scoring strike to put the Broncos back on top 14-7 at the 1:57 mark of the first quarter.

And again lightning struck in the form of Hargrove as he bulled up the middle for another 59-yard touchdown run to cut the ZHS advantage to 14-13 with 1:14 left in the first quarter after Ruston’s extra point kick sailed wide right.

Zachary countered with still another long drive, marching 80 yards on eight plays with Brown doing the honors with a 23-yard touchdown run that put the Broncos up 21-13 with 10:41 remaining in the first half.

Then came a crucial miscue by the Bearcats as the Broncos pooched the kickoff as they had done previously, but no RHS player moved on the live ball, which was recovered Zachary.

“I think we just locked up,” Baugh said. “We knew they would pooch it but it had been going farther than that. Then it landed short and we froze. Those are the kinds of things you can’t do against a really good football team. I thought we had a couple of errors — that one, and a roughing the punter call at a crucial time late in the game. Those two mistakes in the kicking game really hurt us.”

Zachary scored on the ensuing possession after the RHS miscue, with R.J. Allen hitting paydirt on a 9-yard run at the 9:38 mark of the second quarter.

Brown added a 17-yard scoring scamper for the Broncos with 2:22 remaining in the first half that gave Zachary a 35-13 advantage at intermission.

The Bearcats came out a different and inspired team in the second half, shutting down what in the first half had seemed to be an unstoppable Zachary offense.

Sophomore fullback Devian Wilson plowed his way up the middle on a 53-yard touchdown run for Ruston to cut Zachary’s lead to 35-20 at the 10:58 mark of the third quarter, and Hargrove added a 7-yard touchdown run at the 7:46 mark of the fourth quarter to cut the Broncos’ advantage to 35-27 and set up the furious finish.

Hargrove finished with 205 yards and his three scores on 19 carries.

Defensively, the Bearcats were led by senior linebacker Deunta Edwards with eight tackles while Jordan Spencer added seven takedowns for Ruston.

Ruston totaled five sacks on the night, with Jordan Williams, Catravion Wright, Gavin Mitchell-Picken and Jordan Tindall recording one each.

Baugh credited his senior players for keeping the Bearcats in the game against Zachary and for their efforts throughout the season.

“It was tough playing a schedule as rough as we did early on, and our seniors got us through that,” Baugh said. “They gave us the leadership we needed all season long, and that kind of continued effort will take them a long way after they graduate.”

And after a 7-5 finish and second consecutive appearance in the Class 5A quarterfinals, Baugh feels good about the Bearcats who will return next season.

“They’ll remember this game,” Baugh said of his underclassmen. “We’ve just got to get over this hump of the Thanksgiving ball game. It’s good to play on Thanksgiving, but that’s not good enough. We need to figure out how to get over the hump.”