Saturday’s showdown of preseason SWJCFC favorites Navarro and Kilgore is eerily similar to last year’s matchup, a game Bulldog coach Brian Mayper would in most cases like to forget.
Instead, the second-year coach used the Bulldogs’ 45-35 loss as a teaching moment for his team that later resulted in a rout of Kilgore in the SWJCFC semifinals.
Mayper hopes to avoid the anguish in 2013 as he urges freshmen to stay focused and the sophomores to take a hard look at how the Bulldogs competed a year ago on the road.
Fortunately, the No. 2-ranked Bulldogs will face Kilgore at Tiger Stadium this year, a place where they throttled Arkansas Baptist 76-26 to open the season.
“We just made too many mistakes in every phase of the game last year,” Mayper said. “We had a chance to win when he blocked a field goal and (Kilgore’s Joe Herrick) runs it in for a touchdown. Then we had a chance to win it again and we committed a turnover.
“The sophomores have to talk to our freshmen and let them know what it takes when you play a team like Kilgore.”
That would be a team that started the season 0-2 but stumped Trinity Valley 24-19 to open the conference season last week. J.J. Eckert, the dean of SWJCFC coaches, had his club playing prime ball against the Cardinals. Trinity Valley outgained the Rangers 484-311, but Kilgore played an almost flawless game with zero turnovers while forcing four Cardinal miscues.
Mayper has seen that scenario unfold before. Navarro entered that first meeting with Kilgore in 2012 flying high after manhandling high-powered Hutchinson and then swatting aside Cisco. The Bulldogs then outgained Kilgore but they also committed four turnovers and a season-high 20 penalties for 182 yards.
That would be a lasting issue for Navarro, which led the NJCAA in penalty yardage and it wasn’t until the playoffs before the Bulldogs would get on the positive side of the turnover/takeaway ratio.
That Kilgore game led to a later stumble featuring the same issues against Northeastern Oklahoma. Navarro avenged both losses by handily defeating both teams in the SWJCFC postseason.
“You cannot play the way we did last year and beat a team like Kilgore,” Mayper said. “They play assignment football and they are going to compete to the very end, no matter what the score is. It doesn’t matter if you’re up by 50 on them, because they are still going to get after you on every play. They’ll be the most physical team we will be matched up with this season.”
Kilgore will be a challenge again this year thanks to a returning cadre of quality skilled players, led by quarterback Tanner Tausch, who is third in the conference with 560 passing yards on 65-percent passing. Tausch had a pair of TD passes in the win last week over Trinity Valley.
“(Tausch’s) a pocket passer guy, but when he gets out in the open he can really run,” Mayper said.
“Kilgore’s offense is also going to run just about every trick play imaginable. You’ve got to be disciplined on defense and hope they mess up at least as much as they make a big play.”
Disciplined play hasn’t been a problem for most of Navarro’s 3-0 start. The Bulldogs led the conference in team defense, allowing only 226.7 yards per game. Navarro is allowing just 1.6 yards per rush and opposing quarterbacks are completing a meager 44.8 percent of their passes. Opponents are averaging a league-low 4.9 yards per pass attempt.
Navarro’s offense is clicking on an equally high level. Running backs Tim Wright and Cameron Washington both average more than 100 yards per game and quarterback Josh Greer is netting almost 13 yards per completion.
The Bulldogs have shown an impressive offensive balance. They can bang away with Wright and Washington and then Greer can stretch the field with the likes of Devin Lauderdale on the outside. Greer is averaging a conference-best 12.8 yards per completion and Lauderdale is bagging 29.9 yards per reception. Four of Lauderdale’s nine catches have gone for touchdowns.
And don’t forget about receiver Austin Collins, who leads the conference with 18 receptions.
“We’re going to go with what’s open to us,” Mayper said. “That’s what makes us an effective offensive team right now. If you can run the inside zone like we did all night against Hutchinson, we’re going to go with that. If we can throw hitches and move the ball up and down the field like we did against Cisco, that’s great, too.
“We had a big emphasis coming into the season on passing the ball better and more efficiently. So far this year, we’ve shown we can be a very good passing team.”
Mayper and his sophomores have been here before, riding high thanks to a fast start. Can Kilgore play the spoiler role once again?
“We know what to expect from Kilgore and I constantly remind our players, particularly our freshmen, that we’ve got to be focused in practice and in the game if we want to win this football game because mistakes and mental errors will cost us a game,” he said. “I’ve seen it before and I didn’t like it much.”
Kilgore at Navarro
Saturday, 7 p.m.
RECORDS: 2nd-ranked Navarro (3-0 overall, 1-0 in SWJCFC) and Kilgore (1-2, 1-0))
RECENT HISTORY: This rivalry heated up a year ago when Kilgore stunned the Bulldogs 45-35 in the regular season, but Navarro got its revenge in the postseason, thanks to a withering 42-14 win on the road in the first round of the playoffs.
KEY PLAYERS: Navarro: OL Carter Wall, QB Josh Greer, RB Tim Wright, RB Cameron Washington, LB Dominique Kelly, WR Markel Steward-Gillespie, OL Tim Hines, DE Desmond Owino, DL Kerry Holiday, DL John Williams, CB Sherman Gilbert, S Aaron Shaw, S Alex Miller, CB KeUntis Thompson, LB Chrishard Buhl, WR Devin Lauderdale, WR Austin Collins. Kilgore: QB Tanner Tausch, RB Eddie Smith, RB Ladaedrix Payton, WR Derrick Ledet, WR Jeremiah Baines, LB Joe Lynch, LB Daniel Lopez, S Cliff Butler, K Luis Sanchez.
GAME NOTES: Tausch had success against the Bulldogs as a freshman, completing 34 of 63 passes (53.9 percent) for 412 yards with 4 TDs and 5 interceptions. Tausch continues to be the lynchpin of the Ranger offense as Kilgore attempts to solidify a running game that is averaging only 3.5 yards per carry this year. Tausch is completing 65 percent of his passes this year and he was excellent in last week’s win over Trinity Valley, firing a pair of touchdown passes . . . This is a vastly different Navarro team than the one that allowed a lead to slip away in a 10-point regular season loss at Kilgore a year ago. One of the most understated changes for the Bulldogs is the dramatic change in penalties. Navarro had season highs of 20 penalties for 182 yards in the loss to Kilgore last season. The Bulldogs would eventually lead the nation in both categories. In 2013, Navarro is committing a meager 6.3 penalties for 57 yards per game, about half of both categories compared to last season . . . P Roy Patti proved to be a weapon against Trinity Valley, averaging 47 yards per attempt and pinning the Cardinals inside their 5 on three different occasions. His performance earned him SWJCFC Special Teams Player of the Week . . . Navarro is ranked second in the country in scoring (58.3), third in total offense (550.3) and 10th against the run (77.3 yards) . . . The Bulldogs are especially tough of late against teams that wish to establish a ground game, allowing less than 2 yards per carry. Thanks the emergence of DTs Michael Starts and Marquis Anderson, transfers from Texas Tech and Oklahoma, respectively, Navarro has a deep defensive line rotation that allows for fresh players in the game at all times. Starts already has 3 tackles for losses in just two appearances . . . QB Josh Greer was brilliant a week ago, firing three long TD passes to Lauderdale, stretching the defense and allowing the run game duo of Wright and Washington to go against a spread out defense . . . Greer is completing 66.2 percent of his passes this year and Lauderdale is averaging 29.9 yards on 9 catches, four of which resulted in scores.