BY TIM SCHENTTLER
WACO — The Navasota Rattlers were expecting a challenge in their first-round playoff game against the Robinson Rockets and they got it — for a quarter. The Rattlers scored 24 unanswered points including 17 in the second quarter to pull away for a 31-7 Class 3A Division I bi-district playoff victory at Waco ISD Stadium.
The victory improves the Rattlers record to 10-1 and moves them into the area round where they will face Carthage, which defeated Mexia, 49-6. Navasota and Carthage will play at Corsicana on Friday with the time to be determined. Robinson saw its season end with an 8-3 record.
The Rattlers got off to a blazing start scoring on the first play of the game. Though the strong wind out of the south was blowing into their faces, Navasota took to the air with quarterback Shelton Eppler finding Tren’Davion Dickson for a 75-yard touchdown.
Dickson had a step on the defender and after stumbling upon making the catch was able to maintain his balance and outrace everyone to the end zone. Michael Martinez’s extra point made it 7-0 Rattlers just 13 seconds into the game.
“I knew when their coach deferred and took the wind he would have done the same thing to us,” Rattler head coach Lee Fedora said. “A lot of people won’t throw into that strong of a wind, but it doesn’t matter to us.”
Robinson looked like it was going to answer on the ensuing possession when it turned to some trickery and caught the Rattlers off guard.
Robinson quarterback Michael Davila threw a lateral to Zac Law who then turned and threw to a wide-open Davila who had nothing but green in front of him. But, as he got to the Navasota 3-yard line, he was met by Coy Imhoff who separated Davila from the ball. The ball rolled into the end zone where Sammy Blair recovered it.
“I thought that was a big turning point,” Fedora said.
Navasota couldn’t take advantage and was forced to punt with Yovani Urbano’s punt pinning the Rockets at their own 6-yard line.
Undaunted, the Rockets covered the 94-yards in nine plays, scoring on a 32-yard pass from Davila to Fuentes to knot the score at 7-7 with 3:36 left in the first quarter.
From there it was all Rattlers, as their defense took control. Robinson had 168 yards on its first two drives of the game, which was the same amount it would muster over the final three-plus quarters.
“We knew they were well balanced,” Fedora said. “I thought our defensive front did a great job after those drives of putting pressure on them.”
The Rattler offense took advantage, grabbing the lead on a 32-yard field goal by Michael Martinez less than three minutes into the second quarter.
A little more than four minutes later LaMarquis Jefferson scored on a 1-yard run that capped a 3-play, 9-yard drive which was set up by a combination of a short punt into the wind and a 36-yard return by Jefferson.
After the Rattler defense forced another three-and-out, the offense took over on the Robinson 45 following another punt into the wind. It took just six plays to cover the distance with Derrion Randle capping the drive with a 4-yard run that seemed to deflate the Robinson side of the stadium.
“The reason we won the first half was because we won field position,” Fedora said. “That is a credit to our defense and our punt team. One of our goals is to win field position and you do that with special teams.”
Neither team would score in the third quarter though the Rockets did threaten on the opening drive of the second half, marching into Rattler territory before turning the ball over on downs.
Navasota put up the final points of the game early in the fourth quarter when Dickson caught his second touchdown pass, this one covering 24 yards.
Dickson, who did not have a catch in the Rattlers final game of the regular season, finished with 5 receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Eppler was 13-of-21 for 252 yards and two touchdowns and Randle finished with 12 carries for 59 yards and a touchdown.
Robinson’s Davila, who came in averaging 261 passing yards per game, was held to 201 yards on 18 completions as the Rockets finished with 336 total yards of offense.