STORY BY: TIM SCHNETTLER
ARLINGTON — Many adjectives have been used to describe the 2012 Navasota football team.
After Friday only two words are needed — STATE CHAMPIONS!
The Rattlers dominated the Gilmer Buckeyes en route to a 39-3 victory in the Class 3A Division II State Championship game at Dallas Cowboys Stadium. The victory capped a dream season for the Rattlers who finished the season 16-0.
“They didn’t look ahead all season long,” Rattler coach Lee Fedora said. “They took it one game as a season all year long and they played Rattler football. They took care of business tonight.”
Navasota controlled both lines of scrimmage and the Rattlers’ defensive front, particularly junior Jordan Wells, overwhelmed the Gilmer (14-2) offensive line.
Wells seemed to spend the majority of the night in the Buckeyes’ backfield, recording 10 tackles, six for loss, and forcing a fumble late in the fourth quarter that led to the final touchdown of the game. Wells’ efforts earned him the game’s Defensive MVP honors.
“Every game you look in his eyes and he is not happy,” senior Solomon McGinty said. “He always tells me, ‘They are trespassing.’ He doesn’t like any rushers or quarterbacks.”
On the night, the Navasota defense held the Gilmer offense, which came in averaging 455 yards per game to 161 total yards
“We won this championship because of our defense,” Fedora said.
Despite being without leading rusher Xavier Creeks, who missed the game after breaking his leg in a car accident early Thursday morning, the Rattler rushing game was outstanding.
Sophomore Derrion Randle had 76 yards on 12 rushes, including a 52-yard scoring run. Senior Howard Horn added 70 yards on 12 carries, and sealed the victory with a 13-yard touchdown run late in the game.
Senior wide receiver Austin Collins, who was named the game’s offensive MVP, chipped in 96 yards on four carries.
His biggest run of the night was an 82-yard scoring run out of the wildcat formation after quarterback Kadarius Baker had to sit out a play after an injury. Collins also had a pair of touchdowns receiving, finishing with three receptions for 63 yards as he accounted for 159 of the Rattlers 407 total yards and half of their touchdowns.
“I hope Zay [Xavier Creeks] watched that game,” Collins said. “Every yard, every touchdown we got was for him. I love him so much.”
The Buckeyes put the first point of the game on the board on a 29-yard field goal with 4:33 left in the first half. From there, the Rattlers scored 26 unanswered first-half points to take a commanding 26-3 lead into the halftime break.
After seeing the offense struggle the first two times it had the ball, the Rattlers turned to the short passing game. A screen pass to Howard Horn moved the ball to the Rattler 49.
The Rattlers called another screen pass, this one to Austin Collins, who hauled it in and blazed past the Gilmer defense for a 51-yard score to give the Rattlers the lead less than two minutes after Gilmer’s field goal.
The Rattler rushing game kicked it in gear from there, providing the next two scores for Navasota. First, Baker went in from 2-yards out to end a four-play 35-yard drive and then Randle broke off a 52-yarder for a score.
Randle scored when the Rattlers had the perfect play called to counter a Gilmer blitz. Randle took the handoff, burst through the hole where the blitz came from, and left everyone in his dust.
Navasota added one more score before the end of the half on Collin’s second touchdown catch of the game.
The Rattlers took over at their own 26-yard line and needed just three plays to get into the red zone, reaching it when Horn broke off a 37-yard run. Three plays later, Baker found Collins in the corner of the end zone.
“One of our goals is to strike fast and strike often,” Fedora said. “We didn’t strike fast, but after we got it adjusted, we struck often.”
Gilmer tried to get back into the game after opening the second half by recovering an onside kick. After taking over at the Navasota 45-yard line, the Buckeyes faced a fourth-and-goal from the 2.
Quarterback Tanner Barr appeared to be heading into the end zone when he called his own number, but Jake Bauer was able to knock the ball lose and it squirted out of the back of the end zone for a touchback.
It didn’t take long for the Rattlers to capitalize, when Collins broke off his 82-yard score three plays later.
Navasota added one more score when Wells forced a fumble that McGinty recovered at the Gilmer 13, leading to Horn’s 13-yard scoring run.