By Rob Ludwih
COPERRAS COVE -- —
The final 17:47 of Navarro College football season served as mirror to the first 702 minutes of the schedule. And like it had so many times this season, through all the frustrating, occasionally peculiar moments, Navarro pushed aside its issues and pulled out another victory in impressive fashion.
Quarterback Stump Godfrey led the Bulldogs 74 yards in the final two minutes, capping the nine-play drive with an 11-yard scramble into the end zone for the winning touchdown as Navarro defeated Georgia Military 30-23 in the C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl on Saturday.
No. 5-ranked Navarro has taken its fans on a roller-coaster ride this season, losing to Kilgore and NEO, only to go on the road in the playoffs and vanquish those teams by a combined 66 points en route to the conference title.
The Bulldogs often showed flashes of brilliance mixed with days of frustration when penalties would soar into the double-digits, continually stunting their drives and extending those of opponents. Injuries decimated areas of the defense and as dominant as Navarro was most of the season, it struggled to force turnovers. Faced with exceedingly high expectations personally and as a team, players often vehemently showed their frustration verbally and physically on the field or the sideline.
But on Saturday, the Bulldogs put aside all those woes in the final three minutes to maintain their decided historical edge over old foe Georgia Military and secure yet another double-digit win season.
Navarro took over at its 24 at the 2:17 mark, trailing No. 20 Georgia Military 23-22. Godfrey promptly sandwiched completions of 17 and 12 yards to tight end Gerard Shillow around an 11-yard scramble for a first down.
Godfrey then turned to big-play receiver Eddie Johnson for back-to-back completions of 7 and 18 yards, pushing the ball to the GMC 11 with 53 seconds left. After an incompletion on first down, Godfrey took the shotgun snap, quickly surveyed his blanketed receivers and then found a huge corridor on the left side to score standing up.
Godfrey drilled receiver Jordan Jolly with the two-point conversion pass, giving the Bulldogs a lead with 45 seconds remaining.
Georgia Military had a chance on the final drive, moving from its 25 to the Navarro 36. But Navarro lineman Josh Lyons hit quarterback Clay Chastain as he released a pass as time expired and defensive back Darrin Reddick picked off the woefully short effort in the end zone.
“This was a great, great win today,” said Brian Mayper, who finished his first season as head coach 10-2, assuring the Bulldogs a top-5 finish nationally. “We gave it everything we had and had to make it through some difficult things today to get this win.
“Georgia Military was the best team we played all year. We were sluggish at some points in the game, but we made plays when we needed to at the end.”
But getting to that point was truly an adventure.
First, Navarro played without all-conference sophomore starters Montell Garner (cornerback) and Thomas McDonald (safety), often leaving five freshmen attempting to corral what proved to be a very effective GMC passing attack.
Georgia Military quarterback Clay Chastain owned that secondary for the middle quarters when the Bulldogs outscored Navarro, 16-3. Chastain completed 16 of his first 26, but the Navarro freshmen finally settled and the GMC signal-caller was 5-of-18 in that critical final 17:47.
That takes us to the bizarre portion of Navarro’s third straight bowl victory, when emotions bubbled to the surface and led to a benching that was a blessing in disguise.
With Navarro driving deep in GMC territory late in the third quarter, Godfrey was hit as he threw a first-down pass and was picked off at the goal line. Though unhurt, Godfrey remained prone on the field as GMC cornerback Quintavious Knight returned the interception past him into Navarro’s end of the field.
As Georgia Military marched 48 yards on eight plays, capped by a 29-yard Chastain-to-Quentin Atkinson TD pass, there was drama being played out on the Navarro sideline. After the interception, an animated Godfrey first stopped at Mayper who, after a brief conversation, ordered him to the bench to cool down. Then a stream of offensive players took turns attempting to calm the sophomore from Gilmer.
When Navarro got the ball back, Godfrey watched freshman Riley Toler trot on the field. Toler made Mayper’s decision to bench Godfrey look brilliant. Toler completed passes of 19 yards to Shillow and 7 yards to James Washington to push the Bulldogs to midfield. Two plays later, HOT Bowl MVP Tyler Middleton (7-119-2) stepped off a 46-yard scoring run, pulling the Bulldogs back within a point early in the fourth period.
By the time Navarro would get the ball back again, Mayper said he was comfortable with putting Godfrey back in the game. After gaining only one first down on his first series back, Godfrey led the Bulldogs on the winning drive with the skill and coolness that once made him a coveted Division I product.
“Stump is so competitive that sometimes he gets upset when all the guys on the field are not playing perfectly,” Mayper said. “By the time we got to end of the third quarter, he was at the breaking point. That’s when I had to sit him down. I told him we could use him again once he calmed down.
“But that was great to see Riley get in there and perform. He proved he could be the guy. It was really encouraging to see Riley play with that level of confidence.”
Georgia Military temporarily seized control of the game in the second quarter when it didn’t back down from driving into a stiff wind and outscored Navarro 10-3 for a 17-16 lead at the half.
Particularly impressive was Chastain. Pressured only once and able to take his time picking apart the youthful Navarro secondary, Chastain was 5 of 6 for 76 yards and a 21-yard scoring strike to D.J. Rozier at the 7:38 mark of the second period.
Chastain took the Bulldogs downfield on a methodical drive to end the half, completing passes for 7 and 18 yards for first downs to set up Chris Bell’s 27-yard field goal that slid inside the left upright for a 17-16 GMC lead with 47 seconds remaining.
All that Navarro was able to manage during Georgia Military’s rush to the lead was a 31-yard field goal by Patrick Sohrt early in the second quarter that gave Navarro a brief 16-7 lead.
As disjointed as Navarro appeared for most of the middle two periods, it was sharp most of the first quarter as it jumped to a 13-7 advantage.
Middleton dashed left and picked up a big block by Jolly en route to a 64-yard scoring run on the game’s fourth play.
Navarro then went on a 14-play, 57-yard drive that consisted of 11 running plays before Godfrey found Jolly on a 9-yard scoring pass. Jolly, who led all receivers with nine catches, slid off a perfectly placed pick by fellow receiver Johnson, springing him open on the crossing route.
Godfrey finished 18 of 30 for 171 yards passing and 41 yards on the ground. Workhorse Traylon Shead had 52 very tough yards against Georgia Military’s stout defensive front seven, but his hard going opened the way for Middleton to average 17 yards on seven touches.
“(Middleton) is a phenomenal athlete and he showed everyone what he could do today,” he said. “He’s got that special something that you see in guys who play on Sunday. He was the difference for us offensively today, but we still got a little magic from Stump when we needed it.
Navarro 30, GMC 23
Georgia Military 7 10 0 6 – 23
Navarro 13 3 0 14 – 30
N — Tyler Middleton 64 run (Patrick Sohrt kick), 14:01
G — Kevin Gary 20 pass from Clay Chastain (Chris Bell kick), 12:52
N — Jordan Jolly 9 pass from Stump Godfrey (kick blocked), 6:09
N — Patrick Sohrt 31 FG, 10:37
G — D.J. Rozier 21 pass from Chastain (Bell kick), 7:38
G — Bell 27 FG, :47
G — Quentin Atkinson 29 pass from Chastain (kick failed), 14:01
N – Middleton 46 run (kick failed), 12:33
N — Godfrey 11 run (Godfrey pass to Jolly), :45
First downs 25 25
Rushes-yards 40-226 35-96
Passing yards 197 255
Passes-com-att-int 20-32-1 21-44-1
Punts-avg 4-29 5-37
Fumbles-lost 1-0 1-1
Penalties-yards 11-110 9-95
Time of Poss. 43:57 31:03
3rd Down Conv. 7-14 6-18
4th Down Conv. 1-2 4-5
Red Zone Conv. 3-3 2-4
RUSHING: Navarro — Tyler Middleton 7-119, Traylon Shead 13-52, Stump Godfrey 15-41, Tim Wright 2-15, Tarlandus Mitchell, 1-(-1); GMC — Phillip Moore 12-41, Akeem Judd 10-27, Clay Chastain 5-18, Mario Alford 8-10
PASSING: Navarro — Godfrey 18-30-1-171, Riley Toler 2-2-0-26; GMC — Chastain 21-44-1-255.
RECEIVING: Navarro — Jordan Jolly 9-77, Gerard Shillow 5-77, Eddie Johnson 4-28, James Washington 1-7, Wareall Grogan 1-5, Middleton 1-2; GMC — Kevin Gary 5-58, Montez McGuire 4-83, D.J. Rozier 3-38, Kevin Jones 3-19, Chris Hurley 1-2, Moore 1-(-3), Terome Grant 1-5, Alford 1-18, Quentin Atkinson 2-34.