It’s been 294 days since West Monroe fans gathered in Rebel Stadium for a Friday night high school football game, and after a near two-hour delay where many fans passed time in their cars in the parking lot, the Rebel faithful gathered again to witness a hard-fought 30-19 Rebel loss to the No. 1 team in the state, Catholic — Baton Rouge.
After totaling 156 yards of offense in the first half en route to taking a 19-18 halftime lead, the Rebels could only muster 47 yards of offense in the second half, as cramps, turnovers and missed assignments up front took over. Catholic coaches credited their fourth quarter conditioning, while the West Monroe sideline felt their inactivity played a major role in the second half disparity.
"I think it really hurt us last week, not playing that ballgame," West Monroe head coach Jerry Arledge said. "It's hard to simulate in practice what you can do in the game... A lot of kids cramping up, but we played a great football team tonight. No doubt about that. We had our chances, and we just didn't take advantage of them."
Selected as the NFHS Network’s National Game of the Week, the Rebels welcomed in a Catholic team ranked as the 20th best team in the country, according to MaxPreps.com. And the contest lived up to the national billing, especially early on.
The second play of the game sent a jolt though the crowd, as a Daniel Beale pass went through a Catholic receiver’s hands and ended up in the grasp of Javari Sanders, who caught it around the 20-yard line before returning it for the score. The PAT that followed was missed, so West Monroe led 6-0 within the opening 45 seconds of the contest.
"I felt like in the first half that we were just kind of wide-eyed and just running around," Catholic head coach David Simoneaux said. "We were trying to find a pulse on the football team early on but we really couldn't."
Catholic tied the game three plays later. Corey Singleton ripped off a 42-yard run that set up a Taelon Nicholas 9-yard touchdown run, but the Rebels stuffed the two-point try.
Earlier this season Singleton became the first Bear to rush for 200 yards since Kansas City Chief running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire eclipsed that mark back in 2015.
Tied 6-6, the Rebels offense had an answer. Facing a third-and-medium, Micah Bell connected with recently converted tight end Regan Reynolds on a 10-yard gain. Noah Norman executed a fourth-and-inches fullback dive, and Brett Norris gained 12 yards on a quick bubble route on the perimeter. The Rebels drove the ball inside the 10-yard line after running back Rayshawn Pleasant broke loose on an electrifying 32-yard run down the Rebel sideline. West Monroe’s Norman muscled his way in for the go-ahead score on a two-yard dive, as West Monroe took a 13-6 lead.
What many felt would be a low-scoring affair Friday night turned out to be a first-quarter shootout. Catholic came right back down with an immediate answer to West Monroe’s score. A 45-yard pass from Beale to Shelton Sampson eventually saw a drive culminate in a 42-yard field goal from Landon Carter. A Brock Harvey tackle for loss on the drive put Catholic behind the sticks.
Catholic took the lead on the ensuing possession when Lloyd Benson caught a 19-yard touchdown from Beale.
After a quick start, the Rebels offense became stagnant with back-to-back three-and-outs. Down 16-13, the Rebels forced a punting situation but a mistake by return man Sanders led to two additional points for the Bears. Sanders caught the punt at the five and reversed field while treading ground. He was tackled in the end zone, which allowed Catholic to take an 18-13 edge.
Sanders and his defensive teammates limited the damage on the ensuing possession by forcing a three-and-out to retain possession of the football.
The Rebels then went on a 13-play, 71-yard drive that ate five minutes off the clock. The drive culminated in a 15-yard Pleasant touchdown run, after several counter runs gave Bear defenders fits. Pleasant had 81 yards rushing on 10 carries at the half. Pleasant finished the game with 89 yards on 17 carries. Bell was 4-of-9 for 32 passing yards.
The beginning of the second half couldn’t have unfolded any better for Catholic. The Bears get a three-and-out to start the third quarter and then shove the football down the Rebels’ throat with five runs that got the Bears inside the red zone. Chauncey Lee and Jack DeBruhl came up with back-to-back huge stops for the Rebels to force a kicking scenario. Catholic faced a fourth-and-2 at the 9-yard line when Carter nailed the 28-yard field goal, but a personal foul penalty gave the Bears a first down. Catholic cashed in on the Rebel mistake with a Nicholas touchdown run. The two-point attempt failed, so Catholic led 24-19 midway through the third quarter.
While West Monroe’s offense struggled out of halftime, the Rebels defense got after it. Late in the third quarter, the defense brought the crowd to its feet as Tag Banks recorded a tackle for loss, DeBruhl batted away a deep pass attempt and Harvey tripped up Beale in the backfield for a sack to the sound of hundreds of Rebel fans clanging their cowbells.
West Monroe held Catholic to 255 yards in the loss.
Trailing 24-19 in the fourth quarter, the Rebels had a punt blocked, which led to a 28-yard field goal from Carter. Carter kicked a 27-yard field goal to put the game on ice after a Bell fumble gave the Bears possession deep inside Rebel territory once more.
"Field position played a big role," West Monroe defensive coordinator Tony Osborne said. "It seemed like we started around the 50 on defense for most of the night. That blocked punt was missed communication. Somebody blocked down instead of out."
The Rebels were previously 5-0 against Catholic, which previously made West Monroe the only school the Bears had played a minimum of five times without beating.
The Rebels will look to rebound next Friday against Woodlawn-B.R.