RUSTON – Staring into the face of a pair of 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive tackles during the first drive of the game, Ruston running back Qay’shon Thurman was stuffed three straight times inside the 5-yard line.
It was a good indicator of the battle that was about to ensue.
With some help from Sontus Mitchell, Thurman got the best of Darius Davis and Tra’Vonate Davis, a UL Lafayette commit, from there to help lead Ruston to a 24-8 win over East Feliciana on Friday night at James Field.
Thurman rushed for 142 yards and scored two touchdowns and Mitchell added 138 yards as the Bearcats (1-1) won their home opener after a 34-minute lighting delay.
“Us doing our job, first of all, in the run game up front,” Ruston coach Brad Laird said. “They jumped up with a five-man front on the goal line and actually later on got into the middle of the field some.
“That’s what (Thurman) has done. That started a long time ago. That just didn’t happen tonight. He’s gotten so much better. Not just as a running back, but a lot of different areas that make him a lot better on the field.”
Ruston held East Feliciana (1-1) scoreless for almost the entire game thanks to a pair of turnovers that helped set up one of the Bearcats’ scores. Ruston had a turnover of its own near the goal line and a turnover on downs inside the 5 that could have led to a larger margin of victory.
The defense tightened up in the second half, allowing just one East Feliciana first down before the Tigers broke through with a 23-yard touchdown from Dunn Treylan for their first score of the game.
Ruston put up nearly 400 yards of total offense, while East Feliciana totaled 252, 229 of which came on the ground.
“There defensive front is pretty good, but I think our offensive line, I think we got the best offensive line in the state,” Thurman said.
Ruston’s most impressive drive came toward the end of the game when it marched 77 yards to clinch the game. Highlighted by runs from Thurman and Mitchell, the Bearcats moved down the field with little effort. Cade Gibson hit Michael Courtney on a play action pass for a 6-yard touchdown to extend Ruston’s lead to 24-0.
Gibson balanced out Ruston’s offense with quick, efficient throws to help sustain drives. The senior left-hander used high-percentage screens and slants across the middle to Thurman and wide receiver Jeremy Brown, who led all receivers with five catches for 75 yards. Gibson completed 14-of-21 passes for 145 yards.
“You gotta take advantage of that when they are putting seven and eight in the box,” Laird said. “Once we had some success running the football, they started stacking the box. You gotta be able to do that outside, and I thought our outside guys did a great job.”
On the wildest play of the night, Gibson hit Brown for a 43-yard gain down to the 1, spinning away from a pair of defenders in the process, but had the ball ripped away right before the goal line. East Feliciana recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
“The thing that we did, especially in the first half, is we made mental mistakes and we made mistakes where we had opportunities,” Laird said. “You leave 14 points on the board against anybody and you’re going to have your work cut out for you.”
Ruston marched down to the 3-yard line on its opening possession before East Feliciana’s defense held with a goal-line stand. East Feliciana stuffed Thurman three straight plays and forced an incompletion on a slant pass from Gibson.
A 17-play, 74-yard drive helped set up Ruston’s first score of the night. On fourth-and-8, Gibson hit Brown for a 15-yard gain down to the East Feliciana 23 to keep the drive alive. Thurman scored four plays later on a 3-yard run to put Ruston up 7-0 with 4:20 left until halftime.
Thurman’s two first-half touchdowns gave Ruston a 14-0 halftime lead.
“They responded,” Laird said of the missed opportunities. “This is a great group. We didn’t play our best the good thing about it is it’s a lot easier to make corrections on Sunday after a victory instead of a loss.”
A third-quarter penalty wiped out a 94-yard kickoff return by Germontae Franklin, which would end up being the Tigers’ next best scoring chance of the night. East Feliciana still started the drive at the Ruston 40-yard line but did nothing with the field position as the Tigers turned it over on downs.
Just before halftime, Michael Washington picked off Kavon Moore at the 49 and returned it 34 yards down to the East Feliciana 15 to set up Thurman’s second score. Four plays after the turnover, Thurman plowed in from 1-yard out.
East Feliciana also had a scoring chance in the first half when Chris Chaney sprinted 59 yards on a fake punt but fumbled at the Ruston 12.