Northeastern Oklahoma A&M players sprinkled a little dirt from north of the Red River on the Tiger Stadium playing surface to make it feel more like home on Saturday. Sixty minutes later, the Golden Norse were eager for a bit of the real thing.
Navarro stormed into the Southwest Junior College Football Conference playoffs with a resounding 62-16 victory over NEO on Saturday after a 41-2 second-half blitzkrieg that featured a diverse offense and devastating defense.
Third seed Navarro (7-2 overall, 4-2 in SWJCFC play) will visit second seed Tyler Saturday at 3 p.m. in the first round of the playoffs. No. 1 Trinity Valley hosts No. 4 Blinn in the other semifinal.
If three quarters of Saturday’s regular-season finale are an indication, the Bulldogs could be a scary team to face for the second straight season. Navarro entered the SWJCFC postseason as the No. 4 seed last year and rumbled to the conference title in impressive fashion.
In the first, third and fourth periods against NEO, the Bulldogs looked downright unbeatable, outscoring the Golden Norse 55-2 and exhibiting a demoralizing defense that forced seven three-and-outs in those frames.
But it was the second quarter, when the Bulldogs had seven penalties, a turnover and NEO’s only two scores of the day that drew the Navarro coach’s ire.
“All year long, we’ve been our own worst enemy,” said Navarro Coach Brian Mayper. “We had penalties and we missed guys who were wide open.
“But we can control only what we can control for us to have a chance to be a good football team.”
That wasn’t a problem most of the day against NEO. Navarro was dominant in almost every phase of the game, never allowing a NEO offense that averages 423.5 yards per game to get untracked. The Golden Norse managed just 138 yards, including only 13 rushing yards. NEO also had 16 negative plays, losing 65 yards.
Meanwhile, Navarro’s offense delivered a balanced 590 yards behind its dynamic duo running attack and its upstart quarterback making only his third college start.
The Bulldogs sprinted to a 14-0 lead but trudged through the second quarter, allowing a pair of NEO touchdowns for a 21-14 lead at the break.
“Coach Mayper talks all the time to us about starting fast and then staying focused,” said sophomore running back Cameron Washington, who gained 133 yards and scored once. “You start fast, start strong and then stay humble and chase the crumbs.
“There’s no question we have the ability. It’s all about focus in practice and in the games. We just can’t switch it on every Saturday and expect to win every game.”
That focus appeared to be there in the final two stanzas. Navarro picked up touchdown passes of 7 and 67 yards to James Jordan and Devin Lauderdale, respectively, and Tim Wright’s third rushing touchdown to stretch its lead in the third quarter.
Carlos Macias booted a pair of field goals early in the fourth quarter and backup running backs Josh Cleveland and Ke’Aun Kinner added scoring runs in the waning minutes for the 46-point victory.
NEO was thoroughly ineffective against Navarro’s defense in the second half, managing only 9 total yards. Eight of NEO’s 19 offensive snaps went for negative yardage in the half.
Navarro’s offense received 120 yards rushing and TD runs of 3, 9 and 8 from Wright to continue his string of seven straight 100-yard games. Washington set up Jordan’s TD reception with a 52-yard run in the third period.
After an inconsistent start, Navarro’s Earp went on a tear, completing 15 of 24 passes for 249 yards and two scores. Earp had a string of seven straight completions in Navarro’s big third quarter.
Lauderdale was Earp’s go-to receiver, catching 5 passes for 138 yards. “It’s all about continuity,” Mayper said. “We have to run our routes at full speed in practice, just as we would in games. We did that all this week and we had a good result today.”
Now it’s on to Tyler, a one-loss team that defeated Navarro 17-7 earlier this season. Dropped passes and other missed opportunities foiled an otherwise solid effort against a Top 5 team at that time.
“I don’t care where we play, I’m just eager to face Tyler again,” Washington said. “We left too much out there last time. We won’t do that again.”
Navarro 62, NEO 16
NEO 0 4 2 0 — 16
Navarro 14 7 21 20 — 62
N — Cameron Washington 3 run (Carlos Macias kick), 10:47
N — Tim Wright 3 run (Macias kick), :36
NE — Tony Kiefer 1 run (Tyler Cortez kick), 9:10
N — Wright 9 run (Macias kick), 4:25
NE — Elliott Hawkins 18 pass from Mitch Manley (Cortez kick), :04
N — Wright 8 run (Macias kick), 12:23
N — James Jordan 7 pass from Carson Earp (Macias kick), 10:31
NE — Safety, Navarro quarterback sacked in end zone, 8:01
N — Devin Lauderdale 67 pass from Earp (Macias kick), 6:27
N — Macias 36 FG, 14:51
N — Macias 41 FG, 10:01
N — Josh Cleveland 3 run (Macias kick), 8:07
N — Ke’Aun Kinner 8 run (Macias kick), :53
First Downs 12 28
Rush-yards 30-13 53-341
Passing yards 125 249
C-A-I 20-40-0 15-24-0
Fumbles-lost 4-1 1-1
Punts-avg. 8-34 2-28
Penalties 7-68 12-85
Rushing — NE: Tony Kiefer 9-(-25), Elliott Hawkins 5-7, Kendall Holmes 3-0, Dawson Myers 3-14, Devanta Johnson 1-7, Erick Dockins 3-7 ; N: Tim Wright 23-120, Cameron Washington 15-133, Josh Cleveland 1-3, Carson Earp 3-(-4), Ke’Aun Kinner 10-80 , Edwin Mims 1-9.
Passing —NE: Kiefer 10-17-0-60, Mitchell Manley 10-22-1-65, Johnson 0-1-0-0 ; N: Earp 15-24-0-249.
Receiving — NE: Myers 8-49, Samory Collier 1-4, Jesse Vester 1-(-2), Holmes 1-15, Johnson 1-21, Hawkins 3-17, Dakota Warrington 1-6, Austin White 1-7, Deandre Jennings 1-7, Dockins 1-(-5); N: Alex Allen 3-45, Devin Lauderdale 5-138, Washington 3-31, Austin Collins 1-6, James Jordan 2-13, Chadd Dansby 1-16 .