STORY BY: TIM SCHNETTLER
Last week the Navasota Rattler’s game against the La Marque Cougars was billed as a matchup with a state championship feel.
After passing that test, the Rattlers find themselves in another such game. In fact, this one may have even more of a state championship game feel as it features the top two defenses in Class 3A in terms of points allowed per game.
The Rattlers, who last week improved their record to 13-0, will face the West Orange Stark Mustangs, who are also 13-0, in a Class 3A Division II quarterfinal clash at turner Stadium in Humble.
Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m., and the game can be heard live on Navasota News 1550 KWBC, with the pregame slated for 6:30.
The winner of Friday’s clash will be one of the last four teams standing, and will advance to face either Port Isabel or Bellville in the state semifinals. Port Isabel and Bellville meet Saturday night in Corpus Christi.
Navasota advanced to Friday’s game with a hard-fought and physical 31-20 victory over La Marque, a team that was picked by many to win a state championship after dropping down from Class 4A.
“It was great the way it turned out,” Navasota head coach Lee Fedora said of the victory over La Marque. “It was one of the first times all year where we had to play a full four quarters. You could see how tired our kids were at the end of he game.
“I think it was a big plus to finish the game the way we did and to come away with the victory. All that does is prepare you for the next week.”
The Rattlers reward for defeating the Cougars is a meeting with West Orange Stark, a team that has posted nine shutouts this season, including two in the playoffs. The Mustangs are allowing a paltry 3.2 points and 132.8 yards per game.
The Mustang defense prides itself on its ability to play man-to-man and shut down opposing offenses. Last week in its 28-0 victory over Lorena, the Mustangs recorded three interceptions, giving them 19 on the season.
“They are winning games because of their defense,” Fedora said. “I can promise you, from watching film, there is not going to be a better defense we have faced all year long. They are going to bring pressure and they are going to run man on you.
“They want to put pressure on your quarterback and they rely on getting big plays and turnovers.”
While West Orange Starks defensive numbers are impressive, they will have their hands full against the high-flying Rattler offense, which averages 47.2 points per game behind quarterback Kadarius Baker and his abundance of talented wide receivers.
Last week the Navasota offense had one of its lowest yardage outputs of the season, but Baker, who had thrown 50 touchdowns on the season, managed to throw for two and run for another.
Navasota’s defense has been equally as impressive as West Orange Starks, posting five shutouts and allowing just 7.2 points per game. They are also holding opponents to just 179.2 yards per game.
“Everybody talks about offense, but what’s going to win championships is defense,” Fedora said. “You are going to get two of the best defenses in Class 3A. It is going to come down, on the offensive side of the ball, to who makes the fewest mistakes. That is what we have been talking about all week long.”
The Mustangs’ offense has improved as the season has progressed and comes in averaging 34.4 points and 320.4 yards per game.
Quarterback Jimmy Salter, while not quite the threat that La Marque’s quarterback was, has thrown for 1,632 yards and 20 touchdowns, and has rushed for another 425 and 11 touchdowns.
“He can take off and scramble, and if you give him a gap he will find it and he will go,” Fedora said.