By Rob Ludwig
Special to the Daily Sun
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.”
Navarro at Trinity Valley
SWJCFC Championship Game
Saturday, 3 p.m. Bruce Field
RECORDS: No. 13-ranked Navarro (8-2) and No. 8 Trinity Valley (8-2)
RECENT HISTORY: Navarro had several missed chances, including a pair of dropped touchdown passes, in a 17-7 loss at Tyler during the regular season.
KEY PLAYERS: Navarro: QB Josh Greer, OL Carter Wall, 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, QB Alex Allen. TVCC: QB Ryan Polite, RB Tavarreon Dickerson, RB Marquel McNac, RB Luis Lopez, WR Jataveon Green, WR Jarvis Baxter, WR Franky Okafor, K Dylan McLain, LB Courtney Finney, LB Josh Pickett, DE Jhaustin Thomas, DE Duval Jackson, DB D’Nerrius Antoine.
GAME NOTES: Trinity Valley jumped on a Navarro team playing without its starting quarterback in the first meeting of the two teams. The Cardinals scored the final 28 points of the game to make the game a runaway affair. Making the only start of his career, QB Alex Allen was consistently in trouble in the collapsing pocket ... he was sacked eight times and completed only 12 of 24 passes for 59 yards ... he attempted to run at times, but finished with only 28 yards on 23 carries ... Carson Earp has started the last five games and has not thrown an interception ... he’s also shown the ability to run effectively, namely the 27-yard touchdown run that proved to be the difference in Navarro’s 33-24 win over Tyler in the semifinals . . . DEs Jackson and Thomas await Navarro’s passing game. Thomas is second in the conference to Navarro DE Kyron Minter (16) with 13.5 tackles for loss and leads the league with 11.5 sacks and 21 quarterback hurries ... Jackson is right behind with 9 sacks and 15 hurries ... they have accounted for 187 yards in negative yardage for opponents . . . the game will feature the best two kick returners in the conference. TVCC’s Antoine has returned 3 punts for TDs this season, including one in last week’s 38-7 semifinal win over Blinn. Opposite him is Mikechell Potts, who is averaging 18.9 yards and has 2 TDs on 18 returns this season. Potts had a 45-yarder against Tyler last week . . . QB Ryan Polite is among the top signal-callers in the nation, completing 66.5 percent of his passes and averaging 300.6 yards a game through the air. Polite also has 29 touchdown passes this season . . . TVCC also sports the top two receivers in the conference stats-wise in Green (57-549-4) and Baxter (46-740-7). Baxter had more than 200 yards and two scores against Blinn last week . . . Wright is averaging a conference-best 139.2 yards per game and he leads the league with 20 TDs. Backfield mate is fifth in the league with 817 yards and 9 scores this season . . . Navarro could be back at full strength along the defensive line. Coach Brian Mayper said it’s still day-to-day, but DEs Owino and Quincy Vassar and DL Michael Starts could return to the rotation this weekend ... Navarro has had to work with a short rotation the last two weeks because of injuries . . . the same is possible for the offensive line, which was missing three starters for most of the first Trinity Valley game.
— Rob Ludwig