STORY BY: TIM SCHNETTLER
– NAVASOTA – The battle for the District 23-3A lead Friday night was expected to be physical and it lived up to that expectation. It was also expected to be close, but the Navasota Rattlers made sure it was anything but.
The battle for the District 23-3A lead Friday night was expected to be physical and it lived up to that expectation. It was also expected to be close, but the Navasota Rattlers made sure it was anything but.
The Rattlers built a 26-point halftime lead, en route to a 47-18 victory, clinching at least a district co-championship and securing their position in the upcoming high-school playoffs for a fifth consecutive season.
The victory also sent the 21 seniors on the squad out on a high note in their final home game of the regular season.
“This was probably a day where I felt as good as any going into a game because our week of practice was outstanding,” Navasota head coach Lee Fedora said. “The kids prepared hard and did a great job and you saw that tonight.”
The Rattlers (8-1 overall, 4-0 in 23-3A) built their lead by forcing three first-half Smithville (7-1, 3-1) turnovers, two of which they turned into points.
The game started with a bang as Austin Collins returned the opening kick for an apparent 95-yard touchdown. The score was wiped out however because of a block in the back penalty, but the Rattlers started their first possession in Smithville territory.
It didn’t take long for the Rattlers to cash in as Kadarius Baker threw the first of his three touchdown passes on the night, when he hit Austin Baumert in the corner of the end zone for a 20-yard score. The extra point was missed, but the Rattlers had a 6-0 lead.
Baker added to the Rattler lead later in the quarter when he went in from 1-yard out to close a five-play 82-yard drive. Trying to make up for the missed extra point after the previous touchdown, the Rattlers went for two, but were stopped, leaving the score at 12-0.
After the Rattlers recovered a fumble at the Smithville 31, they turned it into points when Howard Horn ended a six-play drive with a 6-yard run. Another two-point conversion came up empty, however, putting the Rattlers up by 18.
The defense got into the scoring act just before the end of the half when Jacob Malek picked off a Coltyn Brown pass and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown.
The three first-half turnovers the Rattler defense forced were part of another solid night. Smithville came in averaging 310 yards per game and the Navasota defense limited the Tigers to just 262 total yards.
The defense also held the Tigers more than 50 yards under the per-game rushing average, limiting them to 173 yards on the ground and kept them out of the end zone until the game was well in hand.
“Our defense played outstanding,” Fedora said. “We knew we had to get stops and three-and-outs, and if we didn’t do that we needed to get some turnovers.”
The Rattlers forced a three-and-out on the first possession of the second half, and then Malek, who finished the night with 127 yards on just eight carries, extended the Rattler lead with a 68-yard jaunt after taking a pitch from Baker, who held on to the ball until the last possible second before pitching it.
Baker, who threw for 163 yards and three touchdowns, sandwiched two touchdown passes to Solomon McGinty around Smithville’s first score, pushing the lead to 47-8.
The first McGinty touchdown came on a 44-yard bubble screen and the second came on a 55-yard downfield strike. McGinty finished the game with four catches for 121 yards.
The Rattlers will close out the regular season next Friday when they travel to Giddings to take on the Buffaloes in a 7:30 p.m. contest. The game can be heard on Navasota News 1550 with the pregame starting at 7:05.