KILGORE — —
From the moment the final whistled sounded on Navarro’s disappointing, mistake-ridden 10-point loss to Kilgore in early October, Bulldog coach Brian Mayper hoped his team would get to return to R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium to exact some revenge.
The 13th-ranked Bulldogs did that and more on Saturday, lighting up the sixth-ranked Rangers for 22 fourth-quarter points en route to a dominating 42-14 victory in the semifinals of the SWJCFC playoffs.
Now the Bulldogs get to make that long trek to Miami, Okla., for the second time in three weeks to confront Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, the other team that defeated Navarro this season. NEO held off Tyler 37-35 in the other semifinal. Game time for Saturday’s SWJCFC title game is 1 p.m.
“I talked about wanting to come back here the minute we lost the first game,” an enthused Mayper said after winning the Kilgore rematch. “We knew we would come over here and dominate the game if we stayed away from the mistakes and we did.”
Kilgore defeated Navarro 45-35 earlier this season on its home turf, but it struggled to keep pace with the Bulldogs on Saturday, recording minus-1 yard on 25 rushes and finishing with three turnovers, two of which led to Navarro scores.
The Rangers kept up to 10 players within five yards of the line of scrimmage most of the game and successfully held the Bulldog running game to a season-low 143 yards.
Navarro turned to quarterback Stump Godfrey, who played well in every facet of the game, completing 18 of 27 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns. Godfrey also contributed 28 rushing yards and a 2-yard scoring run early in the fourth period that quickly stretched the Bulldogs’ 20-14 lead to 14 points.
Running back Tyler Middleton, who did not play in the first half, led all rushers with 58 yards on four carries in the second half, including a 43-yard touchdown run with 7:58 remaining to build a 35-14 lead.
Navarro scored its final touchdown with 4:34 remaining when running back Traylon Shead, who was limited to 19 yards on nine carries, swept right and then pulled up to deliver a perfect 29-yard TD pass to a streaking Jordan Jolly. The entire Kilgore secondary, expecting Navarro to keep the ball on the ground with a commanding lead, had snuck close to the line of scrimmage to stop Shead.
“We made some adjustments on offense and Stump did a good job executing,” Mayper said. “We came in with the same gameplan on offense, but where we beat ourselves last time, we played mistake-free in this game. In the process, we showed we could throw the ball around a bit.”
Navarro played its first turnover-free game of the season, which helped offset a season-low in rushing yards as Kilgore hugged the line of scrimmage much of the game. Navarro had 270 yards through the air for 413 total yards, compared to only 213 for Kilgore.
The Bulldogs also received a big day from kicker Patrick Sohrt, who had field goals of 26 and 48 yards, the latter a career-high.
Navarro held a 17-7 lead at the half behind Godfrey’s sterling passing effort and a defense that never allowed his counterpart to get comfortable in the pocket.
Godfrey completed 12 of 17 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns and also continually scrambled his way out of trouble, picking up 38 more yards on the ground.
Godfrey also displayed pinpoint accuracy most of the first half and that showed best on the final drive of the second quarter. After Navarro stopped Kilgore on a fourth down at the Bulldog 30 with 45 seconds remaining, Godfrey rallied the Bulldogs with completions of 14 yards to Shillow, 25 to Eddie Johnson and 10 to Tim Wright for a first down at the Kilgore 23.
With just 9.7 second remaining, Godfrey lofted a fade pass to the right side of the end zone. Freshman wide receiver Markell Steward-Gillespie, who had only 4 receptions entering the game, caught the ball just before he approached the end line and held on despite being popped by three Bulldogs.
Godfrey was also key in Navarro’s first scoring drive. After a short Kilgore punt, Navarro took over at the Kilgore 35. Five plays later, Godfrey drilled Shillow from 7 yards for a 7-0 Bulldog lead at the 1:30 mark of the first period.
Kilgore, which did not have a first down until the 9:49 mark of the second quarter, finally got on the board with an 8-yard Tanner Tausch scoring run. The Kilgore quarterback, who passed for 461 yards and four TDs in the regular season finale against playoff team Tyler, was hounded throughout the game with Navarro. The Bulldogs sacked him five times, forced a fumble and had pickoffs by defensive end Michael Jolivet and cornerback Aaron Shaw. Tausch was 15 of 29 through the air for 202 yards.
“We wanted to make (Tausch) have happy feet and make throws when he wasn’t ready,” said sophomore Navarro linebacker D.J. Simon, who joined fellow backer Steve Orisakwe to combined for three sacks and one fumble recovery.
“Today was a perfect situation for us. We came over here a few weeks ago and lost a game we thought we should have won. It was mistakes that killed us. Now we get to go back to Miami and play at the place where our only other loss came from. It looks like another perfect situation.”