STORY BY: TIM SCHNETTLER
– NAVASOTA – The old saying goes, “the third time is the charm.” The Navasota Rattler football team will be looking to change that saying Friday night as it takes on the Chapel Hill Bulldogs in the Class 3A Division I Region 3 quarterfinals at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco at 7 p.m.
It is the fifth consecutive season the Rattlers have made the quarterfinals, with their first four trips ending in defeat to a team that either went on to win the state championship or finish as the runner-up.
Navasota (11-1) hopes the fifth trip to the quarterfinals will be the charm, but they know it won’t be easy, as they face the Bulldogs (12-0), who have been ranked No. 1 all season and enter the game as a 10-point favorite according to the Harris Ratings.
“That just tells you about Region 3,” Rattler head coach Lee Fedora said. “When you think about Region 3 in 3A Division I, every year when you get to that quarterfinals you are usually facing the No. 1 team in the state.
“You always have to believe that for that ultimate goal that you want, you have to beat the best if you are going to be the best. It just so happens that every year we have caught it in the quarterfinals.”
The Bulldogs are also the team that ended the Rattlers’ season last year, 42-13, in a game that was close, but got away from the Rattlers when they turned the ball over three times in the second quarter, leading to 21 straight points for Chapel Hill.
“I am one that hates watching that film from last year because that was a disappointing way that it turned out,” Fedora said. “I put the film on for our kids before practice [Tuesday] and I was showing them that in the second quarter it was 7-7.
“We were in the ballgame and we were getting stops when we need to and we were moving the football. Then we gave up sacks, we throw an interception they return to the 1 and then they score. We fumble the kickoff and they score and then we fumble into the end zone and they score and the next thing you know it is 28-7 and I saw out kids just lay down a little bit.
“I think this group this year has been there, done that and they have handled adversity well.”
Navasota reached the quarterfinals with a dominating 44-3 victory over Huffman-Hargrave last week. The Rattlers scored on their opening possession and never looked back.
“I was proud of our kids,” Fedora said. “We came out with 100 percent intensity and from the get-go we started that gas pedal and stayed on top of it and it just kept going from there.”
Chapel Hill had a much tougher game last week against La Vega. The Bulldogs needed a late goal-line stand and a 93-yard touchdown run from Andrew Tucker with less than a minute remaining to pull out the 27-20 victory.
Tucker’s jaunt capped a night where the Bulldogs rushed for 230 yards, which was well under their average of 323 rushing yards per game. Tucker averages 10 yards per carry and has 10 touchdowns, but he is far from being their only threat.
Senior Jay Reagan has carried the rock 111 times for 925 yards and a team-high 16 touchdowns. Three other Bulldogs have at least 44 rushing attempts on the season.
“They are a running football team that can run it at any time and can break it at anytime,” Fedora said.
The Bulldogs can also pass the ball as well, having thrown for an average of 200 yards per game. Senior quarterback Avery Saenz has thrown for 1,154 yards and 13 touchdowns with no interceptions, despite suffering a fracture in his lower right leg in the third game of the season, forcing him to sit out until the final regular-season game.
In his absence, senior wide receiver Anthony Kincade filled in, completing 74 of 107 passes for 1,201 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions.
“If you stop the run they can also throw the football,” Fedora said. “I think it shows what a talented group Chapel Hill is in the fact that their starting quarterback gets hurt early and they still find ways to win and be undefeated.”
The Chapel Hill defense has been stingy this season, holding teams to an average of 297.9 yards per game, but will face a Navasota offense that has been rolling, averaging 427 yards and 40 points per game.
The winner of Friday’s game will advance to the semifinals to face the winner between West Columbia and La Vernia who meet at 6 p.m. Friday at the Berry Center in Cypress.
The Navasota-Chapel Hill game can be heard live on Navasota News 1550 KWBC with the pregame set to begin at 6:30 p.m.