Pulling off football’s version of a hat trick, scoring in three different ways, is fairly rare in high school football, but rarer still is both teams pulling off a score by the offense, the defense and by special teams on a single night.
Ruston managed a punt return by Carlos Hunt with under 2 minutes remaining and got a fumble return for a 43-yard score with 25 seconds left to get past Airline 29-19 in a wild and rumbling finish on Friday night.
The Vikings looked like they had the game wrapped up when D’Kameron White picked off Ruston quarterback Jacob Phillips for the second time in the game with 1:46 to play. But the Bearcats used a shut-down defense and three timeouts to force an Airline punt, which Hunt skewered down the right sideline for the 23-19 lead with just over a minute left. Two plays later, Shadorian Gatson picked up a loose Airline football and finished off the scoring.
Just for good measure, Ruston’s Jalen Garrison intercepted Brad Fream on the last play of the game.
The Vikings managed a defensive score, a special teams score and, finally, an offensive score, but lost for the first time this season.
“I don’t know if I ever remember a game when both teams accomplished that,” Airline coach Bo Meeks said. “We were a little better offensively tonight, but we weren’t good enough.”
Ruston coach Brad Laird had to hold back his emotions during a postgame interview.
“I’m always emotional when I see kids compete like we did tonight,” Laird said. “As a coach this is all you can ask for – great effort and attitude. We’ve had some injuries, but they are no excuse. Our kids played hard for four quarters tonight.”
Ruston kicker Brandyn Reaser missed a 33-yard field goal with about five minutes remaining that would have won the game, but the Vikings couldn’t muster much offense when Coby McGee left the game with a leg injury in the second half. Airline was already without the speedy Brian Fielding, who missed the contest with a foot injury.
“I’m proud of the way our guys fought tonight. It certainly wasn’t from lack of effort,” Meeks said. “We just didn’t execute well enough. We have to get guys in the right spot.”
A strange turn of events midway through the second quarter allowed the Vikings to go in front 6-0. White intercepted Phillips, but two plays later, the Bearcats’ Trenton Bell returned the favor.
Then Ruston’s Jessie Sawyer fumbled on the ensuing play and the Vikings’ Zylon Newson picked up the ball and rumbled down the right sideline before cutting back across the field for a 56-yard score.
The Bearcats responded with a 10-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 17-yard pass play from Phillips to Sawyer.
Not to be outdone, Airline’s Coby McGee grabbed the ensuing kickoff and ran away from the defense on the right side of the field for a 92-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion pass failed, so the Vikings led 12-7 at the break.
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