In the words of Hall of Fame boxer Roy Jones Jr., “Y’all must’ve forgot.”
That was the attitude and swagger of the West Monroe Rebels in a 24-7 victory against defending 3A champs Sterlington Friday night in Rebel Stadium following the lopsided jamboree loss to Ruston one week earlier.
“Had to come out and play better, man,” West Monroe All-State linebacker Chauncey Lee said. “We were upset from the jamboree. We just wanted people to know that we were back. People doubted us. So we had to bring it back to the ‘W’ in West Monroe.”
West Monroe head coach Jerry Arledge admitted a team like Sterlington that seldom makes mistakes, plays keep away and quite frankly has the potential to give West Monroe a dose of its own medicine with its playing style concerned him going in. But the coaching staff challenged their club, and the Rebels responded.
“Our kids had the benefit of going into a hornet’s nest last week, and that’s good. That’s what we hope to get out of that jamboree,” Arledge said. “We’ve come a long way this week. The kids worked extremely hard, and I was worried to death about this game. They are a good football team, but our kids rose to the occasion.”
The Rebels defense bottled up an explosive Sterlington offense that returned its leading passer, rusher and receiver from last year’s 15-0 team. West Monroe held the Panthers to just 163 total yards in the victory.
On offense, the Rebels offensive line took over the game in the second quarter and never looked back. New starting tailback Gage DeJean, who handled most of the carries with Lee going back to linebacker full time, earned the opportunity to showcase his skills. And after his 149-yard rushing performance on 23 carries, it might be hard to take him off of the football field.
“He’s the guy that all spring and all fall camp has been ripping our defense,” Arledge said. “Every time he breaks the line of scrimmage, and somebody misses a tackle, he’s scoring.”
DeJean didn’t get to play his freshman year, which was disrupted with COVID-19, and missed last season with a broken femur. You could say Friday night was a long time coming for DeJean.
“It’s such a release of tension,” DeJean said. “It was all building up to this point. It’s so good to let go, and be able to run against this competition.”
The Panthers’ start to the football game could be described as dreadful by the jam-packed Sterlington faithful in attendance. After missing a scrimmage and jamboree with a hand injury, Trammell Colvin fumbled the pitch on the very first play of the game, and West Monroe’s Isaiah Harris fell on the football at Sterlington’s 36-yard line.
The Rebels ran nine plays and got the ball to Sterlington’s nine-yard line before settling for a 26-yard field goal from Hunter Fox.
Sterlington head coach Lee Doty didn’t make excuses about the mistakes that were made. Instead he tipped his cap to West Monroe.
“West Monroe has a great football team, and a lot of what happened to us tonight was because of them,” Doty said. “I can sit here and tell you all the mistakes we made cause we made a bunch of them, but a lot of them were because of West Monroe. I thought we came out in the second half and played much better, but we just waited too late. Can’t do that against a team like these guys.”
Trailing 3-0, Sterlington answered quickly. Facing a third-and-13, Mason Lawhon hit a familiar wide receiver screen to John Barr, who housed it like he did one-week prior against Neville in the jamboree. Barr returned this one 59 yards to give the Panthers a 7-3 lead in the first quarter. The rest of the half was all West Monroe, though.
The Rebels turned to their passing game on the ensuing drive. Hayden Federico completed passes to Martavious Ward and David Moore to move the chains before DeJean busted loose on a 30-yard run to set up first-and-goal at Sterlington’s five-yard line.
That’s when West Monroe had its lone turnover of the half. Lee was stood up by Sterlington defenders and stripped near the goal line. The Panthers jumped on the loose football and retained possession at the one-yard line late in the first quarter.
Harris made his presence known for the Rebels defense after the turnover. Sterlington tried a reverse with Barr and Harris wasn’t fooled, dragging Sterlington’s D-1 prospect to the ground for the stop. West Monroe then forced its first punt of the game after D’arrius Zeigler batted down a pass attempt on third-and-long.
The Rebels surged ahead on a one-play scoring drive, as Federico entered a pile of Panther defenders, leapt over a pancake block and broke a tackle before racing 58 yards for the go-ahead score.
West Monroe’s defense didn’t relent the rest of the half. Cole-Michael Stephens had a heat signature locked on Colvin, as he was all over Sterlington’s running back the rest of the half. Colvin had just 28 yards on 10 carries in the first two quarters.
After forcing another punt, West Monroe marched 66 yards before DeJean scored on a 10-yard run.
“This last week was tough because I didn’t get to go in the Bayou Jamb, so nobody was able to see me or see what I can do. Coming out here and showing everybody what I’m capable of was a really good feeling,” DeJean said.
The Rebels had another chance to score with 1:23 remaining in the half after the Rebels forced a Brody Belanger fumble at the Sterlington 42. The Panthers defense got after Federico in passing scenarios, though as Charlie Robinson put West Monroe behind the sticks with a sack.
West Monroe happily took a 17-7 edge into the locker room.
The Rebels had such confidence coming out of the half that West Monroe didn’t hesitate when it faced a fourth-and-one from Sterlington’s 41-yard-line. Federico took the snap and handed to DeJean for a seven-yard gain, as West Monroe’s offensive line continued to pave wide running lanes for Rebel backs. Sterlington's Jackson King really bowed up in the red zone. He recorded back-to-back tackles at the line of scrimmage to force a West Monroe 29-yard field goal. Fox missed it, but the defense kept the momentum on West Monroe’s sideline. Lee and Zeigler recorded a massive tackle for loss to force a third-and-12 from Sterlington’s 18-yard line midway through the third quarter. The Rebels regained possession in Sterlington territory after an incomplete pass.
West Monroe targeted Moore frequently on the ensuing drive, and it provided positive results. Moore finished the game with four receptions for 30 yards.
The drive capped with an 18-yard touchdown run from Lee, who made Panther defenders pay for going after the strip again. Lee broke several tackles en route to giving West Monroe a 24-7 lead late in the third quarter.
Lawhon finished his day with a three-for-nine stat line for 73 yards. Belanger led the Panthers in rushing with 51 yards on 13 carries.
West Monroe's Jeffrey Gill was ejected in the fourth quarter after drawing a personal foul penalty.
Asked about what changes will be made going into next week, Doty responded, “We’re going to win.”
Sterlington will attempt to do so when it hosts Mangham Friday night, while West Monroe welcomes East Ascension to town.