By Rob Ludwig
Special to the Daily Sun
That chip firmly placed on the collective shoulders of Navarro College’s football team is back again this postseason and that might spell doom for the rest of the Southwest Junior College Football Conference playoff field.
Navarro lost a pair of games during the regular season in 2012 only to roll both of those opponents en route to the SWJCFC Postseason Championship.
The Bulldogs (7-2) are in a similar position this year after falling to Tyler and Trinity Valley, both teams seeded ahead of Navarro.
First up is No. 7-ranked Tyler, which defeated No. 15 Navarro 17-7 earlier this season.
But the Bulldogs aren’t talking revenge.
“We’re in the same position we were in last year after losing two games we thought we should have won,” said Navarro Coach Brian Mayper. “There’s no revenge involved. It’s redemption instead. We had chances to win that first game with Tyler. We just need to redeem what we believe was ours.”
Call it what you will, the Bulldogs have a tough road ahead to claim back-to-back titles under Mayper.
Tyler presents an especially difficult opponent when the Bulldogs travel to Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium for the 3 p.m. semifinal.
Save for a stunning loss to Trinity Valley, Tyler has played especially well throughout the season, focusing on a potent running game mixed with an effective passing attack.
But after three possessions in the first meeting, the Bulldogs appeared to have figured out how to slow the Apache offense. Navarro yielded touchdowns on lengthy drives on two of Tyler’s first three drives. On the remaining eight possessions, the Apaches had seven three-and-outs, two turnovers and a lone field goal.
But if Navarro is to advance past the 8-1 Apaches, it must put the ball in the end zone more than the single touchdown in the first contest.
It wasn’t as if the Bulldogs didn’t have opportunities. Usually sure-handed receiver Devin Lauderdale dropped a pass in the end zone and another was caught beyond the back of the end zone. Even on the game’s final series, Navarro was driving before a fourth-down pass was not handled deep in Tyler territory.
“We should have had 28 to 35 points on the board,” Mayper said. “We had two deep passes dropped and we had plenty of chances to put the ball in the end zone. We just didn’t make it happen.”
One major difference is the emergence of quarterback Carson Earp, who was making his first start of his college career in the first Tyler game. He has since completed 52.3 percent of his passes for 5 TDs and has zero interceptions in 88 attempts, but far the best percentage in the SWJCFC.
“Carson was pretty good in that first game; he just needs to adjust and inch or two because that’s how close we were to catching two or three touchdown passes,” Mayper said. “I’ll take the same kind out of performance out of him this week.
“Carson has learned the system, learned the speed of the game and has become a better quarterback every week.”
So the big question is whether Navarro is a better team that it was when the teams played on Oct. 5. Can the Bulldogs slow Tyler’s running attack while moving the ball themselves on the ground?
“We had three starters along the offensive line who didn’t play much or at all that first game,” Mayper said. “We’ve got them back, we’ve got a better and more confident quarterback in Carson and we have plenty of motivation.
“It’s time for redemption.”
No. 15 Navarro at No. 7 Tyler
Saturday, 3 p.m. Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium
Radio: KAND 1340AM
RECORDS: No. 15-ranked Navarro (7-2 overall, 4-2 in SWJCFC) and No. 6 Tyler (8-1, 5-1)
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: 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. Tyler: QB Randy Price, QB Matt Davis, RB Leroy Dobbins, RB Terrance Taylor, WR-KR Lamar Carraway, WR Joshua Reynolds, WR Jonathan Epps, LB Kenny Iloka, DL Caleb Tuiasosopo, DB Devante Davis, DE Colton Moorehead, DB Savion Brown, LB Caleb Williams, DL Will Coleman, DL Darian Morris, DB Tre Rosser.
GAME NOTES: Although the teams combined for 24 points earlier this season, this has the potential to be an explosive game. Navarro (45.7) and Tyler (43.0) are among the top three in the conference and the top seven in the nation. Navarro allows 18.8 points per game, compared to d23.9 for Tyler . . . Defensively, Navarro played well against a potent Tyler ground attack in early October, forcing a season-best eight three-and-outs. After Tyler scored touchdowns on two of its first three possessions, Navarro forced seven punts, forced a fumble, intercepted a pass and gave up only a field goal in the Apaches’ final 10 series. In their three scoring drives, the Apaches averaged 9 plays, but only 4.3 plays on their other 10 series . . . Taylor has stepped up to be the force in Tyler’s backfield after Dobbins was the main ballcarrier when these teams met five weeks ago. In the last three weeks, Taylor has averaged 28 carries for 159.3 yards and has scored 3 TDs . . . This game will feature two of the most dangerous receivers in the conference in Lauderdale and Reynolds. After a four-game lull, Lauderdale was back to catching the long ball against NEO with a 67-yarder for a touchdown. Lauderdale is averaging a conference-best 21.6 yards per catch. Reynolds is right behind him with 20.1 yards per grab and leads receivers in the SWJCFC with 10 TDs.
— Rob Ludwig