Don’t look now but Navarro’s Bulldogs, the team they kept trying to bury all year, is alive and well and playing in the Southwest Junior College Football Conference playoffs.
“It doesn’t matter if we are 9-1 or 1-9,” Navarro coach Scott Parr said on Friday. “We’ve been playing for the exact same thing all year long. We’re right exactly where we wanted to be all year. Our goal was to reach the playoffs, and we’re here.”
They sure are, and Parr’s right. Nobody cares how the Dawgs got here, to this SWJCFB Conference semifinal game against Trinity Valley at Bruce Field 1t 3 p.m. on Saturday, the fact is the Bulldogs made it.
It’s about 35 miles from the Navarro campus to Athens and Bruce Field, but the Bulldogs took the long way to get here, battling back all season and defying the odds and the teams in the conference.
Sure, they got off to an uncharacteristic 0-3 start, including a tough luck 0-2 beginning in the conference, and yes, this is the same Navarro team that lost to NEO 35-3 a month ago, and thought the season was all but over after that game.
And yes, this is the same Navarro team that saw Parker McNeil, the No. 1 junior college quarterback in the nation, get knocked out of the lineup with a rib injury in the second game of the year back on Aug. 31 in Kilgore.
But Parr’s team came back and back and back and back, and even after suffering a heartbreaking 45-44 loss to TVCC in the final game of the season a week ago when McNeil drove the Dawgs to the Cardinal 13-yard line, where he was hit and fumbled with 1:56 left in the game — even after all that and more — the Bulldogs are alive and in the playoffs.
And guess what? Blinn, the team that beat Navarro in the conference opener and was picked by the media and the coaches in both preseason polls to win the conference title is gone, sitting home out of the playoffs.
That’s another team that is nowhere to be found now that the playoffs are here.
The Dawgs arrived with a story all their own, and a march to the postseason no one in the program will forget.
They never looked in the rear-view mirroe and never gave up, and landed in a five-way tie for third, but won the tiebreaker because they went 3-1 against the other four teams and landed the No. 3 seed.
The Bulldogs face TVCC in the Sequel while Kilgore hosts New Mexico Military Institute and the winners meet next week.
Even though the Dawgs lost to TVCC a week ago, they enter the playoffs with a ton of confidence after torching the Cardinals for 44 points and driving in the final minutes.
They are a rare team, one with confidence and hunger — playing in the rarest of games..
“You never play the same team two weeks in a row,” Parr said. Never. I’ve never seen it happen.We know they have a good coaching staff with smart people. They’re doing the same thing we’re doing this week, solving the problems they had last week.
“They had the No. 1 defense in the conference, and I’m sure they’re working on ways to stop us.”
Parr pointed to two big reasons the Dawgs didn’t win a week ago, and said his team needed to fix those two areas.
“We had 180 yards of penalties. It’s hard to win when you have that many penalties,” he said.
“And we’ve got to do a better job stopping their running game. We’ve stressed those two areas and we need to do everything we can to change that this week. And we’ve got to play better in the Red Zone, offensively.”
TVCC has probably lost sleep this week, seeing one nightmare image of McNeil night after night.
The Cardinals may have the best defense in the conference, but McNeil just shreds them.
He threw for 476 yards and four touchdowns last week at Tiger Stadium, and he was even better against TVCC last year at Bruce Field, where he set a Navarro single-game passing record, throwing for 552 yards and six touchdowns in a 47-31 comeback in the season finale that knocked TVCC out of the playoffs while nailing down a playoffs spot for the Bulldogs. That’s 1,028 yards and 10 touchdowns in his last two games against the Cardinals, who will be coming after him all afternoon.
“Every Saturday is a new adventure,” Parr said of his team’s wild ride this season. “Our message is always the same: Try to improve and build on our positives. Our goal all year was to get to the playoffs and we’re here. We just have to play our best football this week.”
Navarro’s strange path to the postseason and the fact the Washington Nationals just won the World Series after starting the season at 19-31 and being counted out all year hasn’t been lost on Parr, who embraces the idea.
“We want to be the Washington Nationals,” he said.