Redemption No. 1 is complete. Now it’s on to Redemption No. 2.
The Navarro Bulldogs spent the 2012 postseason wrecking teams that had defeated them during the regular season en route to the SWJCFC championship. Some Bulldogs at the time termed it revenge for those early season losses.
A year later, the Bulldogs find themselves in an almost identical situation, but now it’s the Road of Redemption.
No. 13-ranked Navarro (8-2) takes on No. 8 Trinity Valley (8-2) at Bruce Field at 3 p.m. in a rematch of the Cardinals’ 35-7 win over the Bulldogs at midseason in Corsicana. Both teams are assured of a postseason bowl invitation, though the winner earns a bid in the Heart of Texas Bowl in Copperas Cove, a site where Navarro has enjoyed success in recent years.
The Trinity Valley victory earlier this season, played in a constant rain that didn’t slow the Cardinals’ potent passing game, knocked Navarro from the No. 1 spot in the NJCAA it had assumed just days before.
That in itself is ample motivation for the Bulldogs.
“(Navarro’s players) are hungry and they should play well. We expect them to play well,” said Navarro Coach Brian Mayper. “It’s going to come down to who makes plays and whose scheme is better.”
For eight wins this season, Navarro has been out-scheming opponents and making a myriad of big plays, forcing a conference-best 25 turnovers and holding an impressive plus-14 in turnover ratio.
The first Navarro-TVCC tilt was the only game this season when the Bulldogs committed more turnovers than an opponent. But there were many other issues that night that put Navarro at a disadvantage against a very talented Cardinal club.
First, Alex Allen was making his initial career start at quarterback after regular starter Josh Greer broke the collarbone on his throwing shoulder during in the next-to-last series of the Bulldogs’ conference-opening win over Kilgore.
Trinity Valley, which boasts one of the best pass rushes in the conference behind the play of defensive linemen Duval Jackson (10.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks) and Jhaustin Thomas (13.5 TFL, 11.5 sacks), continually collapsed the pocket around Allen. The sophomore from Dangerfield never looked comfortable, completing 12 of 24 passes for only 59 yards and was sacked eight times.
Allen has since moved to receiver and freshman Carson Earp has started the last five games as Greer heals (Mayper has not confirmed a timetable for his return). Earp has shown flashes in leading Navarro to five straight wins, completing 50.9 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions in 114 attempts.
Secondly, Earp’s protection should be much better this week as well. The Bulldogs played without injured offensive linemen Carter Wall and C.J. Greene and tackle Tim Hines missed at least half the game with a knee injury that knocked him out the next three weeks.
“The last time, we had Charles Sanders and Jarvis Adams in there. We didn’t have Carter. We didn’t have C.J. Tim (Hines) had a knee torn up halfway through the game and played on an injured knee. You take away three starters and it’s a different ball game,” Mayper said. “Those guys are back, so we expecting more.”
Stopping Trinity Valley’s potent offense that averages well over 500 yards per game will be a challenge for Navarro’s No. 1 defense that yields 263.4 yards an outing.
Trinity Valley quarterback Ryan Polite has been impressive throughout the season, completing 66.5 percent of his passes for 3,006 yards and 29 touchdowns. The Cardinals are not typically a vertical passing team, deferring to shorter pass routes and allowing its veteran receivers to slip the first tackler and produce a big gain. That happened last week when Jarvis Baxter had a season-high 204 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Baxter and Jataveon Green have combined for 103 catches, 1,289 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.
“You have to keep them in front of you and make the first tackle,” Mayper said.
The Road of Redemption is taking a different tack in 2013. It ventured to Kilgore and north to Northeast Oklahoma a year ago. Now, it’s already made a visit to Tyler and on Saturday, the Bulldogs hope to complete their comeback season and earn a trip to the Heart of Texas Bowl in December with a victory in Athens.
“I don’t think (Trinity Valley) did anything that gave us any problems offensively or defensively (in the first game),” Mayper said. “They’ve got talented guys and have played well this season.
(On Saturday), it’s going to really come down to which kids make plays.”
Redemption No. 1 is complete. Now it’s on to Redemption No. 2.
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