CENTRAL - Ruston High executed the perfect game of keep away to extend its lead and then to keep the ball away from Central High in the fourth quarter.
A well-placed takeaway - an interception by Darrlyn Lee -helped the Bearcats wrap up a 28-19 victory over Central High in Class 5A regional-round playoff action Friday night at Central Middle School.
“I told our offensive football team: This is what we’ve been doing the last three of four weeks,” Ruston coach Billy Laird said. “We’ve been lining up and knocking people off the ball.
“I put it on their shoulders, and that’s what they did again. They responded.”
With the victory, Ruston (8-4) advances to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2006. Despite missing a portion of the second half with an injury, running back Alexio Williams-Hargrove led the 16th-seeded Bearcats with 97 rushing yards on 14 carries with one touchdown. Quarterback Pierce Spangler passed for 100 yards and also scored two touchdowns including a 2-yard run with 3:43 remaining as Ruston extended its two-point lead to nine points.
Central (7-5), a No. 32 seed, saw its five-game winning streak end a week after upsetting top-seeded St. Paul’s. Zach Evans ran for a game-high 112 yards on 10 carries, including a 65-yard run. Brett Courville passed for 150 yards.
Each team also had a big play on special teams. Kentrell Brice returned a kickoff 88 yards for a TD for Ruston, while Central’s Gary Triplett had a 45-yard punt return for a score.
“What made us a hot team was taking advantage of the opportunities we had,” Central coach Doug Dotson said. “Tonight, we didn’t do that. We had some opportunities. There were (possible) touchdown passes we didn’t catch, and we fumbled at the goal line. We hadn’t done that the last five weeks.
“That’s how it goes in the playoffs. The team that makes the plays moves on.”
Ruston fumbled on its first scrimmage play and the Wildcats’ Paul Broussard recovered. Courville tossed a 19-yard TD pass to Shannon Scott on the next play, giving Central a 6-0 lead with 8:38 to go in the first quarter.
The teams combined for eight punts in the first half. Central stopped Ruston in the red zone once on a fourth-and-4. But Ruston claimed a 7-6 lead when Williams-Hargrove raced 34 yards to the end zone and Shelton Wooley booted the PAT kick with 6:40 left in the half.
Central reclaimed the lead when Triplett took a Ruston punt, spun around and ran 45 yards down the Wildcats sideline. That 12-7 lead with 3:05 remaining in the half didn’t last long.
Brice countered, returning the ensuing Central kickoff 88 yards for TD. The Bearcats led 14-12 with 2:48 left. Ruston added to its lead with a 59-yard drive in the final 1:35 of the half.
Williams-Hargrove had a 20-yard run. A penalty on Central helped the Ruston cause.
A 15-yard pass from Spangler to David Hernandez set up Spangler’s 2-yard TD run with 26.3 seconds left.
Central seized the momentum with a 65-yard run by Evans early in the third quarter. Cyril Noland’s shoe-string tackle kept Evans from scoring. On the next play, the Bearcats recovered a fumble at the goal line.
The Wildcats did get the ball back after a short punt. Courville’s 1-yard TD run made it 21-19 with 4:13 left in the third quarter.
With Williams-Hargrove on the sidelines, Jhafery Clemons, Roderick Long and Spangler all contributed key carries. First, Ruston drove to the Central 22, where Wooley just missed a 39-yard field goal.
The next time the Bearcats got the ball back they drove 53 yards in eight plays, aided by a rare chopping penalty called against Central. Spangler’s TD made it a 28-19 game. After Lee’s interception, Ruston chewed another three minutes off the clock to seal the win.
“Running the ball ? we’ve been doing it all year,” Spangler said.