Legacy means everything to West Monroe players. That’s why most of them were contemplating their own in the locker room at halftime, locked in a 14-14 tie with Ruston.
Thanks to a key turnover on defense, a well-timed quarterback counter and a successful game of keep-away late, the (9-1, 5-0) Rebels secured a 21-14 win against the (5-5, 3-2) Bearcats. And as a result, the 2019 Rebels avoided becoming the first West Monroe team to lose a district game in 17 years.
“It’s talked about all the time,” said West Monroe defensive back Latayeveon McFee, who recorded a crucial interception in the second half. “The seniors come together as one because we love each other.”
West Monroe quarterback Lane Little said the tradition and winning culture forces an expectation of perfection, but it also forges big-time players to make big-time plays. And Little proved his worth in the Rebels’ 32nd consecutive victory against Ruston.
The latest win was far from an easy one. The Rebels outgained Ruston 262 to 218 total yards, and held the ball one minute longer than Ruston in an evenly matched district showdown. To play against arguably one of the best teams West Monroe has faced all season long one week before the playoffs was perfect scheduling if you ask head coach Jerry Arledge.
“To write a script, yeah, that’s exactly the way I’d write it. You want to win, but you want room for improvement,” Arledge said.
Tied 14-14 in the fourth quarter, West Monroe’s ground attack started to gain traction. Suddenly Cayden Pierce’s short fullback dives started to go for five yards a pop, and a Ruston Bearcat defense that crowded the line of scrimmage all night started to bite on the Rebels most successful play this season. Little could sense it. Midway into the fourth quarter, Ruston crashed the “A gap” and Little ran a quarterback counter untouched for a 34-yard touchdown.
“I knew it was about to open up,” Little said. “The energy was obviously very up-tempo. We knew we had to go out and make big plays and get the ball moving downfield. We knew we had to put some points on the board, and we knew we’d do that.”
Little was responsible for the only touchdown of the entire second half.
Along with Little’s 42 yards rushing, the junior signal-caller completed all five of his passes for 107 yards and a touchdown in the win. Meanwhile, Pierce led the team with 76 yards on 20 carries.
After taking the lead and forcing a Ruston punt with 5:41 remaining in the game, the Rebels were able to burn all but the final eight seconds of game time with their ground-and-pound. Ruston forced a punting situation with a little over a minute to play, but 12 men on the field drew an automatic Rebel first down and cost the Bearcats time to mount a comeback.
Battle of the defenses
If you stripped the decals off the helmets and put the Rebels and Bearcats in the same game-day gear, fans would have a hard time telling them apart. The reason why is both teams love to pound the rock and play stingy defense.
West Monroe entered the contest giving up just 5.8 points per contest, while the Bearcats entered the matchup allowing just 14.3 points per contest in district play.
Thus every prognosticator in the state could have predicted what unfolded Friday night: a defensive struggle.
After Ruston outgained West Monroe, 72-26 in total yardage in the first quarter, the Rebels defense created a short-field scoring opportunity. Rebel defensive end Malcolm Moore dropped Ruston quarterback Jaden Procell for a 10-yard loss on third down. A poor punt traveled just 19 yards and placed the Rebels on Ruston’s 35-yard line.
After back-to-back successful fullback dives with Pierce, the Rebels sent receiver AJ Fenceroy in motion before Little pitched it forward to him on a jet sweep. Ruston had the play read and surrounded Fenceroy in the backfield, however, a perfectly timed spin move freed Fenceroy from the traffic in the backfield and opened the field up for a 24-yard touchdown “reception.”
“When he gets space, he’s dangerous,” Little said.
Aside from the short-field score and 99-yard kickoff return by Rayshawn Pleasant, the Rebels were limited to just 61 yards of offense in the first two quarters. Still, the Rebels were able to tie the game with Pleasant’s return before the half.
“What are we going to do when we get behind? Well, we learned we’re going to fight back,” Arledge said.
West Monroe and Ruston’s defenses made the proper adjustments at the half. Each unit forced a three-and-out from the opposing offense.
The Rebels generated a punting situation deep in Ruston territory, and a 10-yard return from Fenceroy, combined with a late hit out of bounds, set West Monroe’s second drive of the half up at Ruston’s 27-yard line. This time the Rebels did not cash in on the short field, as Kade Pittard missed a 41-yard attempt.
Ruston marched 72 yards on the ensuing drive before McFee recorded an interception inside the Rebels own 5-yard line.
“All week at practice, they were talking about watching your man, and my man was at tight end,” McFee said. “I anticipated it. I wanted the interception, and I got it.”
West Monroe then marched 71 yards — thanks to back-to-back huge passing plays to Fenceroy — but Ruston’s Greg Prince recovered a Little fumble inside Ruston’s 15-yard line.
A Magnificent Drive
Having success against West Monroe in district play isn’t groundbreaking, though it is rare. Sustaining that success over four quarters is an entirely different story.
After both teams settled in, and the Rebels tied the game, 7-7, with Fenceroy’s run, Ruston put together a 13-play, 60-yard scoring drive in the second quarter.
Ruston tailback Ketravion Hargrove, who scored the first touchdown of the game on a two-yard dive that ended in him leaping over defenders on the goal line, gashed West Monroe’s defense with one dive after the next. Those successful runs set up multiple third-and-medium situations for the Bearcats offense, and Procell executed them perfectly.
The first third down situation occurred at Ruston’s own 43-yard line. Off of a play-action, Procell fired the ball into receiver Marcus Harris’ hands for an eight-yard pickup on a slant route.
Later in the drive, Procell rolled out and found Harris again, but this connection put the Bearcats inside the 10-yard line.
After Procell ran up to the line of scrimmage to seemingly change the play, Ruston executed a direct snap to Hargrove, who bounced it off tackle for a seven-yard touchdown run. The score gave the Bearcats a 14-7 lead and also sent the message loud and clear to the Rebels: Ruston wasn’t going away like so many other district teams before them.
“We need to execute better for four quarters,” Ruston head coach Jerrod Baugh said. “The kids have played hard all year. We just need to be able to execute down the stretch in order to win some ballgames down the stretch. I think we’re a good football team, and whenever we put it all together, I think we can beat any of these guys.”
95 in a row
The Rebels’ victory marks the 95th consecutive win for West Monroe in district play. The Rebels haven’t lost to Ruston since 1990, thus Friday night’s win marks the the team’s 32nd consecutive win against their district rival.
The Rebels also extend a win streak against Northeast Louisiana schools to 29 years. The last NELA team to beat the Rebels was Neville in 1995.
As for what this win does in the present, the Rebels’ 9-1 record earned the Rebels enough power points to land the No. 2 seed behind No. 1 Acadiana. West Monroe will host No. 31 Central Lafourche.