STORY BY: TIM SCHNETTLER
Since taking over the top ranking in Class 3A the Navasota Rattlers have had a target on their backs every week.
With teams now facing the win or go home scenario of the playoffs, the target has continued to grow bigger and bigger. Friday night it will be the La Marque Cougars, one of the storied high-school football programs in Texas, that will get its shot at knocking the Rattlers off their perch.
The undefeated Rattlers (12-0) and the Cougars (11-1), who earlier this season held the No. 1 ranking, will face off in the regional round of the Division II playoffs at Woodforest Bank Stadium in Shenandoah. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. and the game can be heard live on Navasota News 1550 KWBC beginning with the pregame show at 6:30.
The winner of Friday’s game will move one step closer to the ultimate goal of a state championship and will advance to face either Lorena or West Orange Stark in the quarterfinals. Those teams are meeting Friday at 7 in Waller.
Navasota has rolled through the first two rounds of the playoffs, defeating China Spring (62-16) and Jasper (59-14), but the game against La Marque will provide the Rattlers with their biggest challenge to date.
La Marque, which dropped down from Class 4A, was an early favorite to win a state title, and the Cougars have been impressive, since a loss to Coldspring in the third week of the season.
“This is going to be a great matchup,” Navasota head coach Lee Fedora said. “They are a talented group on the offensive side and on the defensive side. I don’t think you can find any glaring weakness. They are all good football players. This is going to be a great challenge for us.”
Senior quarterback, Demun Mercer, who is truly a dual-threat, leads the Cougars. While he has more passing yards (1,303) than rushing yards (1,197), it is his ability to run that makes him a handful to contend with. Mercer has accounted for 34 touchdowns on the season, passing for 19 and rushing for a team-high 15.
“They definitely like to run the football and it is impressive when you look and their quarterback leads the team in rushing,” Fedora said. “He is one of those guys that scares you. When you start putting pressure on him, he can find an open lane or dump the football off to somebody.
“You have to play assignment football, not just at the start of the play, but you have to continue to the end of the play.”
Mercer is far from the only threat the Cougars possess on offense, as they also boast 1,000-yard rusher, sophomore LaDarrian Ellis-Jones, who has 1,083 yards and 13 touchdowns on 196 carries.
The La Marque defense could almost be a mirror image of the Rattlers’ defense, which has been one of the stingiest in Class 3A, allowing just 170.9 yards and 6.1 points per game.
The Cougars are equally impressive at 183.4 yards and 9.7 points per game. They have also forced 31 turnovers — 16 fumbles, 15 interceptions — this season.
“It sounds a lot like us on the defensive side,” Fedora said. “It shows that they play good football. It is not going to be a team where you feel you are going to put up a lot of points, but it is not going to change our style. We’re still going to go in with the mentality that we have got to do what we have been doing all year long.”
La Marque’s solid pass defense — 74.8 yards per game — will get tested by a Navasota passing game that has shredded opponents this season and averages 319.7 yards per game.
Quarterback Kadarius Baker has thrown for 3,729 yards and 48 touchdowns while completing 64 percent of his passes. His top two targets have been seniors Solomon McGinty (71 receptions 1,505 yards and 20 touchdowns) and Austin Collins (69, 1,467, 22).
Against Jasper, however, senior DeMarcus Lee gave Baker another option when the Bulldogs tried to take McGinty and Collins away.
“If I had to sit here and tell you who had one of the best games on offense, no doubt in my mind DeMarcus Lee,” Fedora said. “He had a tremendous night.”