Death, taxes and West Monroe’s district win streak.
No, a weather delay could not prevent what continues to feel like the inevitable.
Even in 2020, with a delay that pushed the start time back to 8:20 p.m., the Rebels defeated Alexandria Senior High, 18-10, for West Monroe’s 96th consecutive district victory. West Monroe hasn’t lost a district game since 2002, but that doesn't mean Friday night's win wasn't well earned.
“Winning the game like that at the end, that’s got to be a great lesson for us,” West Monroe head coach Jerry Arledge said.
Arledge was grateful to be talking about a teaching moment after a win, rather than a loss. Because the momentum switched from the Rebels, who led 18-0 at halftime, to the Alexandria sideline as the Trojans had an opportunity to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.
Down 18-10 with 18 seconds left, ASH dialed up the “hook and ladder” where quarterback Judd Barton’s pass to Taquan Frazier was lateraled to Tre Culbert, who turned up field and got the ball inside West Monroe’s 40-yard line before being tackled with seconds to spare. A Brock Harvey sack followed to end the contest, but not before ASH gave West Monroe’s sideline a major scare.
“I was thinking, ‘Where’s the safety?’” West Monroe defensive coordinator Tony Osborne said. “It was a great design play by them, and luckily for us, we made the tackle We’re fortunate to get out of here with the W.”
At the expense of throwing out a generic cliché, it truly was a tale of two halves.
The Rebels punched the Trojans in the mouth from the opening kickoff. A quick 3-and-out forced by the defense — aided by a Chauncey Lee open-field tackle on third down — preceded a 10-play, 84-yard scoring drive by the Rebels. West Monroe senior tailback Derome Williams ran the ball six times on the drive and covered 61 yards before Noah Norman scored from 21 yards out to put the Rebels up, 6-0.
With players like Aidan Swanner and Ty Allen missing due to injuries, West Monroe had several young defensive linemen like sophomore D’arrius Zeigler step up in the victory.
The linebackers weren’t too bad either. Senior linebacker Ernest Johnson helped set the tone by generating pressure and stuffing inside zone runs from the onset.
Williams ensured a touchdown on the ensuing possession on a third down toss sweep, where he shoved the initial defender off of him and bullied his way into the end zone. In a way, it was a nice nod to Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, who sent NFL fans into a frenzy with his stiff arm of Josh Norman. The score gave the Rebels a 12-0 lead, as the Rebels struggled to convert their first two PATs.
Williams eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in the first half.
Peyton Todd, who has missed every game up to this point with an ankle injury, made his return as the team’s punter in the second quarter. Though he did not play any defensive snaps, his first punt of the night went for 58 yards.
Meanwhile, the Trojans struggled to convert a first down in the first quarter. Actually, ASH moved the sticks for the first time in the second. That momentum was short lived thanks to another strong play from Zeigler at defensive end. Zeigler sealed off the edge throughout the night.
The Rebels continuously got off the field on defense in the first half, even after West Monroe aided ASH. An illegal substitution on a fourth down punt attempt gifted ASH a first down, as the Trojans later crossed the 50 for the first time of the night. However, the Rebels got a pass breakup from Kade Pittard and a Lee quarterback hurry to force a pooch punt.
That placed the Rebels at their own 6-yard line and proceeded to rip off a 7-play, 94-yard drive. The bulk of those yards came on a 53-yard pass from quarterback Lane Little to Brett Norris. Little pushed his way into the end zone for the 1-yard score, as West Monroe, without senior kicker Luke Stagg with a groin injury, missed its third consecutive PAT.
"Luke might be back next week," Arledge said. "He told me if he needed to kick a game-winner, he could have tonight."
Regardless, the Rebels still led 18-0 at the half.
In the second half, fans got their first Hayden Federico sighting. Federico, who is just a freshman but has generated a lot of buzz with his athleticism, ripped off a 20-yard gain. ASH eventually sacked Little to force a punting situation before blocking Todd’s second punt attempt. That placed the Trojans at the Rebels’ 39-yard line with less than six minutes to play in the third quarter.
ASH was able to come away with points off of the turnover, as Abel Peterman booted a 38-yard field goal after junior Javari Sanders broke up what looked to be a touchdown for the Trojans.
That’s when fatigue set in.
“I thought they got us on our heels a little bit with their hurry-up offense,” West Monroe defensive coordinator Tony Osborne said. “The COVID-19 issue is catching up to us with depth. I think we had 15 or 16 kids out this week overall. When you can’t rotate as many kids, those kids have to get used to playing snap after snap after snap.”
But a quick 3-and-out by the Rebels on the ensuing possession gave the ball back to ASH, and that’s when Barton broke loose on a 67-yard touchdown run. Suddenly West Monroe’s lead shrunk to an eight-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
The Rebels offense became stagnant. Facing a 3rd-and-6 from their own 45-yard line, Little took the shotgun snap and was sacked for a loss.
“There was nothing different (ASH did defensively),” West Monroe offensive coordinator Glenn Hunt said. “Their effort increased. Ours decreased.”
Todd pinned the Trojans inside their own 10-yard line with nine minutes remaining, but this came after an ASH returner muffed a punt and the Rebels returned it for a score. Because an official blew an inadvertent whistle, the Rebels were forced to re-kick.
“It was a live ball, bad whistle, re-kick,” Osborne said. “It just didn’t make any sense to me because now what if the kick is returned for a touchdown? At least make him down wherever the ball is. That’s why we had to re-kick because they blew the whistle too early.”
ASH crossed the 50 with its passing game, but an injured Rebel on the sideline finally had his plea heard. The coaching staff put Allen into the ballgame, and on 4th-and-8 from West Monroe’s 27-yard line, Allen made the sack with a little over two minutes to play in the game. Allen and Rylan Green, who played most of the game at tight end, helped anchor a defensive line that wore down in the second half.
“Ty has been out with a strain shoulder all week, and he’s been begging us to get in,” Osborne said. “We were exhausted, so we sent him in and he was fresh. That was good. That’s what we needed. Hopefully he didn’t re-injure his shoulder. We’ve been trying to keep him out and let him get stronger.”
Arledge said he wasn’t sure which assistant coach put Allen in the ballgame, but he’s certainly glad that decision was made.
“I was hoping to give him another week of rest and get that shoulder better healed, but that adrenaline is a powerful drug,” Arledge said.
Because West Ouachita had to pull out of the game next week due to football players being quarantined, West Monroe is on the hunt for a new opponent. Arledge was confident he would have one.
“So far, I’ve called three or four states looking for ballgames,” Arledge said. “I feel like I will find one between now and Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Teams every week that come up with this contact tracing and positive test and they’re not able to play at the last meeting.
“I feel certain we’ll have a game. It’s just a lot of people that I call, it’s amazing they won’t even answer my call. I’m going to start telling them I’m someone else from somewhere else to at least let them talk to me.”