BY TIM SCHNETTLER
NAVASOTA — Through four games this season the Navasota Rattlers had not been challenged. Friday night they found themselves locked in a battle and the Rattlers were not able to answer the bell.
The Fairfield Eagles forced six Navasota turnovers, held the usually high-scoring Rattler offense in check, and upset the second-ranked Rattlers, 44-24 at Rattler Stadium, ending Navasota’s 20-game win streak in the process.
The loss drops the Rattlers to 4-1 on the season, while the Eagles improve to 5-0, and avenged last season’s loss to the Rattlers.
Navasota’s offense had its worst showing, gaining just 188 total yards and turning the ball over six times — five interceptions and one fumble.
“I told our kids the better team won tonight,” Navasota head coach Lee Fedora said. “You turn the ball over that many times you are not going to beat anybody. The big test is how we come back after this.
“They have a good football team and I think they have a chance to make a long run.”
While the offense struggled, the Navasota defense had its issues as well. Despite coming up big on some stops, when the Rattlers seemed to get the momentum back on their side, the defense was not able to keep it.
Evidence of that came near the end of the first half after the Navasota defense forced a fumble at the Fairfield 10 and the offense punched it in to make it a 16-14 game with 2 minutes and 49 seconds left in the half.
Fairfield, which finished with 422 total yards, responded by driving 65 yards in seven plays, to push its lead to 23-14 heading into the half.
The first half was marred by turnovers as the Rattler offense threw four interceptions and also had a fumble that was returned 36-yards for a touchdown. As a result the Rattlers found themselves trailing at the half for the first time this season.
The turnovers started on the first Rattler possession when Larry Rose stepped in front of a Shelton Eppler pass that was intended for Jerbrell Lipscomb at the Fairfield 47-yard line.
Two plays later Rose broke free racing 51 yards for the first points of the night, the first points scored on the Navasota defense this season.
The next two Navasota possessions ended with an interception and a punt, but the Navasota defense kept Fairfield from doing anything offensively.
The Rattlers finally got on the board late in the first quarter with a six-play, 62-yard drive that was capped by a LaMarquis Jefferson 4-yard run. The big play of the drive was a 52-yard catch and run by Tren’Davion Dickson that moved the ball to the Fairfield 15.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Eagles muffed it and Derrick Lewis recovered it for the Rattlers at the Fairfield 31. But on the first play following the muff Chris Lide intercepted Eppler’s pass in the end zone.
Another Rattler turnover let the Eagles add to the their lead. Trying to run the option, Eppler made a pitch that was too high for Derrion Randle to handle, and Alex Ward scooped it up, returning it 36 yards for a touchdown.
Ward had a huge night for the Eagles, collecting three interceptions to go with his fumble recovery. He returned one of the interceptions for a touchdown and also added a 24-yard touchdown run on offense.
The Eagles added the lead with a 24-yard field goal, before the Rattler defense forced a fumble that was recovered at the Fairfield 10-yard line.
Jernigan, who had replaced Eppler at quarterback, scored from the 1-yard line with 2:49 left in the half, but as it seemed to for most of the night, Fairfield had an answer.
The Eagles marched 65 yards in just seven plays with Jacob Gallegos ending the drive with a 1-yard score to put the Eagles up 23-14 at the half.
Navasota got the first big play of the second half when they stripped Gallegos of the ball and recovered it at the Fairfield 9. After a loss on the first play, Derrion Randle scored from the 12 to pull the Rattlers back within two.
But once again the Eagle offense answered when Rose broke free for his second touchdown run of the night, this one covering 56 yards.
Michael Martinez connected on a 22-yard field goal with 3:32 left in the third to bring the Rattlers back within six at 30-24.
Fairfield threatened again in the fourth, but the Rattler defense turned them away, stopping a fourth-and-1 at the Navasota 5-yard line.
The offense wasn’t able to move the ball, however, and was forced to punt. Starting at its own 45, Fairfield used nine plays to score, the capper coming on Ward’s 24-yard run.
Any hopes of a Rattlers’ comeback were stymied when they failed to convert on a fourth down, and then Ward iced it with his third interception of the night that he returned 34 yards for a touchdown.
The Rattlers will try to bounce back next week when they travel to Austin to take on McCallum. The game can be heard on 1550 KWBC beginning with the pregame at 7 p.m.