The Benton Tigers had no answer for Ruston’s powerful running attack in a 56-16 loss in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs Friday night at Hoss Garrett Stadium.
Benton, the No. 12 seed, closed its third season in Class 5A 8-4. Ruston (10-2), the No. 5 seed, will visit No. 4 Destrehan in the quarterfinals next week.
Ruston’s Dyson Fields rushed for 234 yards and three touchdowns, per The Shreveport Times. It was his second straight game of 200-plus yards in the playoffs.
The Bearcats rolled up 451 yards on the ground.
“They just ran it right at us,” Benton Head Coach Reynolds Moore said. “We didn’t stop them. I don’t think they punted all night. I think we got maybe one stop when they fumbled.
“We thought it’d be really tough to stop them. Thought if we could score every time like they were maybe something would happen crazy. We’d get an onside kick back, be able to go for two at some point. Just didn’t pan out. We made too many mistakes tonight and we just didn’t do a good job on defense.
“Some of that is us not doing a good job but some of it is I think they were just better than us tonight. They had two really good backs and the quarterback could run. When they threw it he was pretty accurate. They were just a good football team.”
Benton hung close early. After the Bearcats took a 7-0 lead, RJ Moore booted a 40-yard field goal, tying a career-long he set in the Tigers’ 38-31 first-round victory over Hahnville.
Ruston answered with two quick touchdown drives. Benton got within 21-9 on a touchdown pass from Gray Walters to Cade Stewart. A try for two failed.
The Tigers then thought they had recovered an onside kick. But the ball went to Ruston. The Bearcats added another touchdown before the half for a 28-9 lead, and things didn’t get any better in the second half.
While the loss stung, it doesn’t detract from what the Tigers accomplished this season. Benton hosted a playoff game for the first time as a member of Class 5A and won it.
The Tigers’ regular-season losses were to co-District 1-5A champions Byrd and Captain Shreve along with Parkway, which is the only 1-5A team left in the playoffs.
“After the scrimmage and the jamboree and some of the mistakes we made and how we looked if you would’ve told us then we were going to win eight games, host a playoff game and be in the second round we probably would’ve taken it,” Moore said.
“I feel like this team really set a standard, set us up for years to come. I think we got a lot out of it.”
But Moore said he knows one thing that will be a point of emphasis in the offseason. To take the next step, the Tigers will have to spend more time in the weight room.
“Tonight was an eye-opener,” he said. “We’ve got to get stronger.”
Benton graduates some veteran players that have been two- and even three-year starters.
Among those are Moore’s son RJ, who handled kicking duties starting his freshman season and has also been a contributor at receiver.
They helped Benton make the transition from Class 4A to Class 5A and suffered through a pandemic-shortened 2020 season that included one close loss after another.
“Obviously there are some spots to fill that I think will be tough,” Moore said.
But barring unforeseen circumstances, the list of players expected to be back in 2022 is impressive.
The include Walters, a junior who led the parish in passing, junior Pearce Russell, the parish’s top receiver, and sophomore Greg Manning, one of the parish’s top rushers.
Junior linebackers Zach Halbert and Gavin Jacobs, and junior defensive back Sawyer Simmons were among the Tigers’ leading tacklers.
And that’s just to name a few.
“I think we’ve got a lot of young guys that will be the nucleus of our team next year,” Moore said. “I feel like we’ve got over half of our guys coming back. Guys that played a lot that weren’t starters are coming back. Our freshman bunch can step in and fill some gaps on special teams.”
“We’ve got a real good nucleus to build off of this offseason.”