- Markel Steward-Gillespie couldn’t move.
He stayed there on the ground, alone.
Finally Austin Collins came over and picked up the Navarro receiverwho had just come up short, slipping out of bounds at the 8-yard line on a catch that might have saved his team.
No words were needed.
Just that freeze-frame image of Steward-Gillespie laying there was more than enough.
Bitter, frustrated, drained … Fill in the one word that hurts the most. That’s how Steward-Gillespie and Navarro felt after falling to No. 6 Tyler, 17-10, on a night when the Bulldogs came back and back and back and then came up empty.
It wasn’t just that final pass of the night from Carson Earp, who was making his first start for Navarro. It was one frustrating moment after another.
Just look at the pass that Collins dropped in the end zone just before halftime -- a perfect strike for a would-be touchdown. Then there was that TD pass that Devin Lauderdale caught in the right corner of the end zone at the end of the third. He was wide open and hauled in the reception. But no, Lauderdale was ruled past the end line. No catch, no touchdown. Just more frustration. You could see it in Lauderdale’s face when he walked back on the field and ripped off his helmet.
Bitter, frustrated, drained … pick one you like.
Then there was that wide-open pass to Steward-Gillespie on a fourth-and-3 play with 1:38 left in the game. He was there but the ball was high and just beyond him -- just like this game, just like this night was for the Bulldogs.
But Navarro held after that near TD miss, and not only stopped Tyler, but stopped the clock, too. The Apaches could take off only 20 seconds from the time they got the ball until Navarro had it back after a punt.
One last chance. It came with 1:08 left from the Navarro 23, and Earp --who was out of timeouts -- drove the Bulldogs, connecting twice with Steward-Gillespie to move the ball to the Navarro 48, but a couple of incompletions and a holding penalty drained the clock, and Earp had to hit Steward-Gillespie one more time for a 10-yard gain back to the 48. That’s where the Bulldogs were with 16 seconds left on a fourth-and-10 when Earp fired his final pass of the night.
It had enough on it, and Steward-Gillespie made the catch. But it was too much and he slipped out of bounds as he caught the ball at the Tyler 8-yard line. No catch. No comeback.
He just stayed there on the ground.
That’s how much this one hurt.
It was No. 6 Tyler and No. 8 Navarro, a team that had just fallen from No. 1 after losing to Trinity Valley a week ago. This could have been the rebound game, could have been a statement game, a comeback game.
Instead, the Bulldogs slip to 4-2 for the season and 2-2 in the SWJCFC, a conference that Tyler (6-0, 3-0) now owns. The Apaches savored this one. Navarro had beaten them eight straight times, and Tyler came out flying onto Earl Campbell Field at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium to get one back.
Leroy Dobbins simply took control early, and the leading rusher in the SWJCFC ripped off 127 yards in the first half to lift Tyler to a 14-0 first quarter that still looked pretty to Tyler even after Navarro closed to 14-3 by halftime.
It was all Dobbins early with just enough QB Randy Price mixed in to give Navarro’s defense fits. Dobbins rushed for 127 yards in the first half alone and was the main weapon on both of Tyler’s first half scoring drives.
The Apaches drove 97 yards on their first possession , a drive that was highlighted by a 50-yard run by Dobbins to the 11. Price scored two plays later on a 6-yard run. Tyler’s second scoring drive went 70 yards and ended with a 5-yard touchdown by Dobbins with 48 seconds left in the first quarter.
But Dobbins was held to just 39 yards on 11 carries in the second half and you could feel the momentum shifting and building for the Bulldogs, who looked and felt like a comeback team in the final two quarters.
Tim Wright was nothing short of remarkable in the second half. He ran for 109 yards in the second half and finished with 164 yards on 26 carries and finally put the Bulldogs in the end zone when he scored on a 18-yard run with 6:02 left in the game. He also had four receptions for 83 yards.
And it was Wright who set up the first points of the night for the Dogs.
Navarro finally got on the board with 5:09 left in the half when Carlos Macias nailed a 29-yard field goal to close to 14-3. That field goal was set up by a brilliant catch-and-run from Wright, who zigged and zagged and ran about 110 yards on a 62 yard pass from Earp that started with a short flip to Wright, who skipped out of a couple of tackles and went east to west before coming back east and finally getting brought down at the 12-yard line.
But Tyler’s defense shoved Navarro backward and on a fourth down from the 13, the Bulldogs settled for the field goal.
Earp completed 17 of 32 passes for 202 yards without a TD or interception, but he came close to throwing three touchdowns.
Navarro could have made it a lot closer by halftime, but Collins dropped a perfect pass in the end zone that would of-could-of-should-of been a 42 yard touchdown pass with 53 seconds left in the half.
That dropped pass proved to be the theme-setter for the night as Navarro spent too much of the game coming up just short, time after time.
It seemed like the game and the night was there on Navarro’s fingertips all night, but it just slipped away and away and away until there was nothing left.
Nothing but that image of Steward-Gillespie on the ground.