By Rob Ludwig
Special to the Daily Sun
TYLER — Navarro stormed back into the Southwest Junior College Football Conference championship game by roaring to a 17-point second-half lead and then holding on for a 33-24 victory against No. 7-ranked Tyler on Saturday.
The Bulldogs (8-2) will get a much-anticipated return engagement with Trinity Valley next Saturday in Athens in the title game. The Cardinals defeated Navarro 38-7 in a rain-soaked game in Corsicana earlier this season.
No. 15 Navarro led by a field goal at halftime against Tyler, but went on lengthy scoring drives late the in third period to grab a 27-10 lead entering the final frame.
The key to Navarro’s surge was its grinding rushing attack that accounted for 304 yards, including a career-high 187 yards on 29 carries from running back Tim Wright. The sophomore from La Marque had 117 yards in the second half, ripping off five double-digit runs that included a 10-yard scoring effort with 4:56 to go in the third period.
With time dwindling under a minute in the stanza, Carson Earp dashed untouched through the middle of Tyler’s defense on a quarterback draw on third and 25, pushing Navarro’s lead to 17.
The Apaches (8-2) rallied to within a field goal in a span of 1:06 of the fourth quarter to make the game appear headed for a frantic finish. Quarterback Randy Price fired a 28-yard touchdown pass to Lamar Carraway at the 14:26 mark and the Apaches immediately got the ball back when Tarlandus Mitchell muffed the ensuing kickoff at the Navarro 25.
Four plays later, Price fired a strike to Joshua Reynolds on a quick slant on a fourth-and-three play, cutting Navarro’s lead to 27-23 with 13:20 left in the contest.
Navarro kicker Carlos Macias, who already had a pair of field goals in the first half, then contributed back-to-back three-pointers of 42 and 36 yards, again making it a two-possession game.
Navarro then turned to its defense to make a return trip to the conference title game.
Near midfield, Tyler attempted a fake punt, but Chip Jones and Kyron Minter slung down Jaylin Minor for a loss of four yards.
With play dwindling under five minutes, Price broke loose for a 36-yard run. But as he was nearing the goal line, he fumbled and defensive back Sherman Gilbert recovered the ball in the end zone.
Tyler would get only one more chance to rally, but Price threw a pair of incompletions and then was sacked on back-to-back plays for a combined minus-18 yards.
Tyler, which had 240 of its 383 yards total offense in the first half, scored on its first drive of the night, moving 69 yards in seven plays, ending with Terrance Taylor’s 3-yard scoring run.
Navarro responded with a 29-yard scoring pass from Earp to James Jordan less than a minute later. Macias, who has six field goals in the last two weeks, sandwiched field goals of 37 and 25 yards around a 39-yarder from Tyler’s Ljundrim Kaba to maintain a three-point lead at the half.