If Navarro College’s football team is seeking some kind of solace about playing the first round of the SWJCFC playoffs on the road, at least the Bulldogs will be visiting the first team to defeat them this season.
When 13th-ranked Navarro (7-2) plays at 6th-ranked Kilgore (8-1) at 3 p.m. on Saturday, the Bulldogs could seek a measure of revenge for an early October 54-35 loss to the Rangers.
Northeastern Oklahoma (8-1) hosts Tyler (5-4) in the other conference semifinal. Navarro can only host the championship game if Tyler upsets the Golden Norse at home. Tyler defeated NEO in double overtime during the regular season at home.
“I guess it’s a good that we get to play the first team that defeated us, though we really beat ourselves that night,” said Navarro Coach Brian Mayper.
Navarro, which had 182 yards on 20 penalties in Game 1, had a slew of other mistakes in the first tussle with Kilgore that led to their initial defeat of the season.
Navarro has finally surged into the lead on Traylon Shead’s 10-yard scoring run late in the third period, but the Rangers responded with the final 15 points of the game on two critical errors.
Navarro blocked a short field goal by Kilgore with 6:13 remaining, but Joe Herrick alertly picked up the loose ball and scored from 25 yards. A two-point conversion gave Kilgore a 28-35 lead.
On the ensuing possession, Navarro was driving when standout Kilgore safety James Jones picked off Bulldog quarterback Stump Godfrey, returning it 49 yards for a touchdown, effectively ending Navarro’s hopes for a perfect season.
“Defensively, Kilgore played very, very hard that night and forced us into some turnovers, but if you take away all the penalties, we’re way up in the upper 200s in rushing,” Mayper said. “We could have had 54 points that night very easily without the errors we made.”
But those penalties did have a major effect. Second and short turned into second and 20. Third and 1 was made into a third and 25. Drives stalled, players became frustrated, tempers flared and Navarro got a big L.
“The officials that night were absolutely horrible,” Mayper said. “I’ve never seen a game with that many penalties. It was a shame because two good teams were playing and all the penalties made it difficult to watch.
“We had all those second- and third-and-longs. It’s hard to call plays to deal with that.”
Kilgore is coming off perhaps its best game of the season, particularly offensively. Quarterback Tanner Tausch completed 24 of 31 passes for 461 yards and four TDs in the Rangers’ 45-24 win over Tyler to close the regular season.
The Ranger defense also forced five Apache turnovers, including a pair of interceptions by linebacker Charles Woods, who returned one 71 yards for a touchdown.
Tausch and Woods were named SWJCFC Offensive and Defensive Players of the Week, respectively.
“(Tausch) is a solid guy at quarterback,” Mayper said. “He will hit the play action and then go downfield. (Wide receiver Ed’Marquees Battiies) is a special guy on the outside. We’ve got to get pressure and our defensive backs had better play well.”
Mayper won’t have to give a major pep talk to his charges on Saturday. What’s at stake in the postseason, combined with the earlier game against Kilgore, will give the Bulldogs ample incentive.
“No one is ever going to remember who won the game in the regular season, but they sure will remember who won the playoff game,” he said. “The two teams who win this weekend will play for a chance to go to the Heart of Texas Bowl. This is their chance to make it a season to remember.”
Navarro at Kilgore
At R.E. St. John Stadium
Saturday, 3 p.m.
Radio: KAND 1340 AM
Records: 13th-ranked Navarro (7-2) and 8th-ranked Kilgore (8-1)
Recent History: Navarro and Kilgore combined for 37 penalties in the Rangers’ 45-35 win earlier this season.
Key Players: Navarro: QB Stump Godfrey, RB Traylon Shead, WR-KR Tony Drake, TE Gerard Shillow, RB Tyler Middleton, LB D.J. Simon, RB Tim Wright, G Mitchell Bell, T Aleon Calhoun, C-T Carter Wall, DT Arnold Blackmon, DE Michael Jolivet, DT Andre Young, DT Terrell Brooks. Kilgore: QB Emory Miller, QB Tanner Tausch, RB Karrion Morrisey, WR Ed’Marques Batties, WR Darrin Brown, P/K Dylan Nowak, LB Charles Woods, S James Jones.
Game Notes: Navarro hopes to shake its continuing issues with penalties. Returning to the site of its worst penalty game of the season could make matters interesting. The Bulldogs are ranked next to last in the NJCAA in penalties, averaging more than 11 per game for 103 yards. Navarro had 20 in the first game against Kilgore, but the Rangers were not far behind with 17 . . . QB Tausch is coming into his own for Kilgore. He threw for a season-high 461 yards and 4 TDs in a rout of Tyler last week. He has 11 TDs this season, but leads the conference with 8 INTs. . . . Tausch’s favorite receiver is Ed’Marquees Batties, who leads the conference with 55 catches, 785 yards and 9 TDs . . . LB Woods has the inside track on All-America honors after a regular season in which he averaged 12 tackles per game, forced five fumbles and recovered 3. He also had 16 TFLs for minus-65 yards . . . Shead leads the conference in rushing with 110.4 yards per game and is 6 yards short of 1,000. He also leads the league in scoring (90 points). He had 104 yards in the first Kilgore game . . . Godfrey struggled throughout Game 1, completing just 11 of 31 passes for 147 yards and 1 interception . . . Corsicana’s Thomas McDonald leads Navarro and is ranked fifth in the league with 8 tackles per game.