STORY BY: TIM SCHNETTLER
– WACO – To say Friday night’s Class 3A Division I quarterfinal between the Navasota Rattlers and the Chapel Hill Bulldogs was entertaining would be an understatement.
The Rattlers and the top-ranked Bulldogs thrilled and delighted the crowd at Floyd Casey Stadium, keeping them on the edge of their seats in a wild affair that was finally won by the Bulldogs, 56-46.
The game was tied heading into the final quarter, and the Rattlers grabbed their first lead with 10 minutes and 11 seconds left, but Chapel Hill scored the final 15 points to pull out the victory.
“It was a dogfight back and forth,” Navasota head coach Lee Fedora said. “I am proud of our kids and the way they played.”
This was the fifth consecutive trip to the quarterfinals for the Rattlers, and unfortunately it was the fifth time they saw their season end in this round. This time it ended with an 11-2 record.
The Bulldogs improved to 13-0 and advanced to next week’s semifinal round where they will face West Columbia, who earlier in the evening eliminated La Vernia, 28-7.
Chapel Hill, which came in averaging 524 yards of offense per game, rolled up 597 against the Rattlers, including 428 on the ground.
“They’ve got some great athletes on their offense and it was tough on our defense,” Fedora said.
It would have been easy for the Rattlers to hang their heads and pack it in after Chapel Hill scored 13 points in the first 39 seconds of the game following a pair of Rattlers’ turnovers.
Instead the Rattlers continued to battle, managing to draw even by halftime thanks to a pair of defensive touchdowns — an interception return by Solomon McGinty and another by Jaylyin Minor.
“When you get turnovers and score off turnovers it is big,” Fedora said. “Our kids kept competing.”
The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, setting up a wild final 12 minutes.
Chapel Hill struck first in the final frame when Deaveron Dean fell on loose ball in the end zone after teammate Jay Regan coughed it up at the 1-yard line.
The Rattlers wasted no time answering, as Kadarius Baker hit Austin Collins with a pass that Collins hauled in, turned on the jets and went 66 yards to pay dirt. The extra point was no good, however, leaving the Rattlers down by one.
Navasota’s defense came up with its third score of the night 19 seconds later when Autra Maxey scooped up a fumble and raced 26 yards for a touchdown, handing the Rattlers their first lead of the night.
Having missed the previous extra point, the Rattlers went for two, running a trick play on a pass to Maxey. He bobbled the pass, but eventually secured it, only to have it squirt loose as he dove for the end zone, leaving the Rattlers with a 46-41 lead.
After the Bulldogs returned the ensuing kick to midfield, they went on a 10-play scoring drive, with Reagan capping it with a 1-yard run.
Navasota was forced to punt the ball away, giving the ball to Chapel Hill with under 3 minutes remaining in the game.
The Rattler defense had a chance to get the ball back when the Bulldogs faced a third-and-3 from their own 35. But Reagan broke through the line and raced 65 yards for the score that put the game out of reach at the 1:30 mark.
Navasota’s offense finished the night with 272 yards. Baker threw for 287 yards and three touchdowns, completing 15 of his 26 pass attempts. Collins had three receptions for 99 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while McGinty had five receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown.
The Rattler weren’t able to muster much on the ground, finishing with 14 rushes for minus-15 yards.