West Monroe’s back was against the wall. And the football team was left with two options — cower in fear or come out swinging.
One week after having a win streak snapped at the hands of Neville High School, West Monroe welcomed in an Alexandria Senior High team that averaged 53.8 points per contest and was on a mission to end the Rebels’ 98-game win streak in the district.
The West Monroe faithful are happy to report those plans fell short in a 28-14 Rebel victory Friday night.
“It was all noise leading up,” West Monroe offensive coordinator Glenn Hunt said. “That’s what we talked about on Sunday. We said, ‘Hey, it’s us in this room that matter. Let’s go to work.’ Coach (Jerry) Arledge asked them Friday after that loss against Neville, ‘Where do we go from here? What are we going to do?’ And the kids responded.”
The days leading up to the game tested the Rebels like no other week before.
“We just practiced a little harder,” Arledge said. “We put the pants on, which means we’re fixing to go full speed, wide open. It's offense vs. defense.”
Arledge placed the blame on himself for the loss against Neville, stating over and over again that he didn’t have his team ready to play. So he ramped up the practices before the showdown with ASH to ensure the Rebels didn’t come out flat Friday night. The players thrived in the intense setting.
“The practice and tempo was crazy,” West Monroe veteran defensive back Paul Manning said. “I think we needed that loss to Neville. We were ready tonight.”
Personnel changes were made — half of West Monroe’s offense featured new starters — and challenges were made along the line of scrimmage, but ultimately it was the swing plays on special teams that gave the Rebels the edge in the heavily anticipated district showdown.
After a scoreless tie in the first quarter, thanks to a game-altering interception made by Manning in the end zone, the Rebels defense feasted on back-to-back tackles for loss by Jaxson Snow and Brock Harvey. Snow recorded his second sack of the first half before Harvey made the first of his two tackles for loss in the first half to pin Alexandria deep in its own territory. That set the stage for the Rebels first score.
Early into the second quarter, West Monroe's Javari Sanders caught the punt around the ASH 40-yard line, weaved his way through defenders and maintained his balance as Rebel blockers paved the path with Trojan bodies. Sanders housed the punt return to give West Monroe a 7-0 lead at home. On the ensuing kickoff, the Rebels blew up an ASH return man and TCU commit Jadais Richard pounced on the loose football to regain possession for the Rebels inside the red zone.
The Rebels made good on the turnover with new starting quarterback Hayden Federico polishing off a short drive with a quarterback sneak at the goal line.
West Monroe’s special teams unit wasn’t done. On the ensuing ASH drive late in the second quarter, linebacker Chauncey Lee snuffed out a wide receiver screen to force a field goal opportunity for the Trojans. Richard made his mark again as he skied high in the air to block Abel Peterman’s 44-yard field goal attempt with 26 seconds remaining in the half. That allowed the Rebels to take a 14-0 lead into halftime.
“That was a good feeling,” Richard said. “Coach put me in the spot to make plays, and big time players make big plays in big moments.”
ASH was limited to just 75 total yards in the half, while Federico was responsible for 78 of the Rebels’ 97 total yards in the first two quarters. Federico had 78 rushing yards on 11 carries with the score.
“They told me on Sunday that I'd be the starter, and this is what I’ve always wanted,” Federico said. “My coaches believed in me, and I believed in my offensive line. We got it done.”
ASH received to start the second half and the Rebels defense forced a three-and-out to set the tone. On West Monroe’s first offensive possession, Federico turned to the air and found Brett Norris on a deep post for the 61-yard score. The crowd erupted as West Monroe connected on its first pass of the night to take a 21-0 lead.
“We knew we couldn’t just run our fullback inside, so we had some sweeps and play-actions that we felt good about,” Hunt said. “But it all just boils down to our effort and enthusiasm. Playing this game, I told them, ‘We got to get our confidence back. And we’ve got to get our fight back.’ I think we did that.”
The Trojans finally got on the board at the 7:44 mark of the third quarter. Jarvis Newton broke through the goal line on a one-yard rush. Newton finished the game with 111 yards and two scores on 34 carries.
West Monroe answered. Rebel running back Rayshawn Pleasant ripped off a 62-yard run, where he weaved through ASH defenders and stiff-armed another Trojan at the 27-yard line to get an additional 10 yards. Pleasant led the team with 102 rushing yards on 11 carries.
Sophomore Nate Green, who is former Rebel tight end Rylan Green’s younger brother, caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Federico later in the drive for his first career touchdown reception of his varsity career.
Harvey recorded his second sack of the night in the second half. He applied the pressure on the very next play that rushed Bordelon’s throw and resulted in Richard corralling an interception.
ASH scored with less than two minutes remaining in the contest after blocking a Rebel punt attempt.
West Monroe outgained ASH, 280-201, in total yards.
Arledge is now 38-0 as head coach against district opponents heading into the West Ouachita contest. The last time West Monroe lost a district contest was against Byrd in 2002. The Rebels’ win against ASH marks 99 straight in district play.
“It means the world,” Federico said. “All the generations behind us. This is for everybody in the past that has built the way for us.”
The (3-2) Rebels will host (2-4) West Ouachita next Friday night in hopes of claiming the Rebels’ 100th straight district victory.