STORY BY TIM SCHNETTLER
ROCKDALE — In a battle of District 18-3A heavyweights, the Navasota Rattlers were able to deliver the knockout blow, scoring 21 unanswered fourth-quarter points to down the Rockdale Tigers, 42-21, at Tiger Stadium on Friday.
The teams battled to a deadlock at the half and then were tied again late in the third quarter, but that is when the Rattlers (7-1, 2-0) took control with a pair of defensive stops and three scores to hold off a game Rockdale (5-4, 2-1) squad.
The victory vaults the Rattlers into the top spot in the district, putting them in the driver’s seat for the district championship with games against Caldwell and Taylor remaining on the schedule.
Sophomore quarterback Shelton Eppler had a big night for the Rattlers connecting on 18 of his 28 passing attempts for 344 yards and four touchdowns. As a unit, the Navasota offense finished with 533 total yards, adding 189 on the ground to go with the passing yardage.
Eppler and fellow sophomore Tren’Davion Dickson (6 receptions for 148 yards) connected three times for scores of 68, 34 and 13 yards. Eppler also connected with Jerbrell Lipscomb on a 78-yard touchdown pass that helped put the game out of reach.
Rockdale got off to a fast start scoring the first 14 points of the night when quarterback Clayton Gibbs broke free for a 55-yard scoring run and then hit Austin Caffey for a 20-yard touchdown.
But following the touchdown pass to Caffey, the Rattlers didn’t need long to answer as Eppler found Dickson on the first play following the Rockdale touchdown and Dickson turned it into a 68-yard score.
Dickson and Eppler connected again, this time from 34-yards out, just before for the half to make it a 14-14 game at the break.
“Going into this game our biggest concern was the first half,” Rattler head coach Lee Fedora said. “If you watched Rockdale this season they put up points and we knew it was going to be a battle.
“To be able to come back and make it 14-14 at the half was big and then the first play of the second half we break a big one and that gave us momentum.”
The momentum to start the second half came from Derrion Randle who finished with 166 yards on just 11 carries.
On the first play of the second half Randle took a handoff, cut to the outside and outraced everyone for a 66-yard score to give the Rattlers their first lead of the night.
The Tigers managed to tie it with 1:47 left in the third quarter when Gibbs capped a 14-play, 88-yard drive with a 2-yard score.
From there it was all Navasota.
Dickson caught his third touchdown pass of the night, this one from 13-yards out to lift the Rattlers back into the lead.
Rockdale tried to answer, but saw its drive stall at the Navasota 23-yard line when it failed to convert on a fourth-and-5. Two plays following the turnover on downs the Rattlers stretched the lead when Lipscomb turned a simple bubble screen into a 78-yard touchdown.
Another turnover on downs gave the ball back to the Rattlers and Randle capped the scoring with a 50-yard touchdown run, his second of the night.
The Ratters return to Rattler Stadium next week to take on the Caldwell Hornets in the final regular season home game. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m., and the game can be heard live on Navasota News 1550 KWBC.