STORY BY TIM SCHNETTLER
CONROE — The Navasota Rattlers found themselves in unfamiliar territory Friday night as they trailed the Chapel Hill Bulldogs at the half. When the game ended, however, the top-ranked team in Class 4A found itself in very familiar territory — the win column.
Navasota rallied with five second half touchdowns to fend off the upset-minded Bulldogs, getting a 49-28 victory at Buddy Moorhead Stadium. The victory improves the Rattlers’ record to 12-0 and moves them into the regional round of the playoffs where they will face El Campo, which defeated Carthage. Chapel Hill, meanwhile, sees its season end at 6-6.
The Rattlers did not look like themselves in the first half, failing to capitalize on a couple of golden scoring opportunities. But after they came out of the locker room following halftime, they returned to form.
“We just told them adversity is going to hit sometime and it hit us tonight,” Navasota head coach Lee Fedora said. “We didn’t execute early on and we told our kids it was about the second half and playing Navasota football and that is surely what we did.”
The offense went back to its fast-paced ways and scored three touchdowns in a span of 6 minutes to take control. The Rattler defense, which had its struggled in the first half, capitalized one the momentum, getting two straight three-and-outs to get the ball back in the offenses’ hands.
“The defense made great adjustments at halftime,” Fedora said.
Quarterback Shelton Eppler, who was off in the first half, was on target in the second half, missing on just five passes, while throwing four touchdown passes. Eppler finished the game 20-of-38 for 431 yards and six touchdowns.
Eppler started the half with a 32-yard pass to Sammy Blair, who also hauled in the first touchdown of the night for the Rattlers.
After the defense got the ball back for Eppler and the offense, he connected with Tren’Davian Dickson for a 19-yard score. The duo connected again to stretch the Rattler lead to 21, this time a 59-yarder.
Chapel Hill got a score back to pull within 14, but the Rattlers had the answer as Davon Jernigan turned a screen pass into a 35-yard score on the first play of the fourth quarter. Jernigan capped the scoring with just over six minutes left in the game with a 1-yard run out of the wildcat formation.
The Rattlers missed a couple of golden opportunities in the first quarter, getting into Bulldog territory twice, but coming away empty both times — once on a failed fourth down attempt and the other on an interception in the back of the end zone.
Navasota’s inability to get on the scoreboard caught up with it when the Bulldogs jumped on top just before the end of the first quarter. Quarterback Konnor Hitchcock capped a six-play, 80-yard drive with a 36-yard pass to Zack Walters,
The deficit marked the first time the Rattlers had trailed all season.
Navasota finally found its offensive rhythm and managed to pull even with an eight-play drive that covered 81 yards and featured a pair of key third-down conversions. The score came when Blair hauled in a 19-yard pass from Eppler.
The Bulldogs wasted no time answering, however, as Hitchcock and Walters hooked up again, this time of a 26-yard scoring pass when Walters got a step over the middle on a Navasota defender.
It was a minor setback for the Rattlers as they marched down the field to another tying score. A screen pass to LaMarquis Jefferson set the Rattlers up with a first-and-goal at the 10, and two plays later Eppler found Jernigan at the goal line for the tying score.
The Rattlers had a chance to seize some momentum heading into the half, but couldn’t stop the Bulldogs on a third-and-6 as Hitchcock scrambled away from pressure for a gain into Navasota territory.
The Bulldogs took advantage when Michael Bledsoe broke off the right side and outraced everyone to a 42-yard touchdown to put the Bulldogs up 21-14 at the half.
NAVASOTA 49, CHAPEL HILL 28
CHAPEL HILL NAVASOTA
First Downs 13 28
Rushes/Yards 50/307 28/249
Passing Yards 106 431
Total Yards 413 680
PC-PA-PI 8-18-1 20-38-1
Punts/Avg 5/29.4 2/38.2
Fumbles/Lost 0/0 0/0
Penalties/Yards 5/52 2/30
CHAPEL HILL 7 14 7 0 — 28
NAVASOTA 0 14 21 14 — 49
C — Zack Walters 36 pass from Konnor Hitchcock (Austyn Fendrick kick) 6 plays 80 yards (:22)
N — Sammy Blair 19 pass from Shelton Eppler (Michel Martinez kick) 8 plays 81 yards (10:18)
C — Walters 26 pass from Hitchcock (Fendrick kick) 10 plays 80 yards (6:20)
N — Davon Jernigan 10 pass from Eppler (Martinez kick) 9 plays 75 yards (3:42)
C — Michael Bledsoe 42 run (Fendrick kick) 6 plays 76 yards (1:02)
N — Blair 32 pass from Eppler (Kick failed) 3 plays 75 yards (11:37)
N — Tren’Davian Dickson 18 pass from Eppler (Jernigan pass from Eppler) 11 plays 89 yards (7:00)
N — Dickson 59 pass from Eppler (Martinez kick) 1 play 59 yards (5:51)
C — Walters 9 pass from Hitchcock (Fendrick kick) 12 plays 72 yards (1:33)
N — Jernigan 35 pass from Eppler (Martinez kick) 4 plays 75 yards (11:50)
N — Jernigan 1 run (Martinez kick) 3 plays 36 yards (6:24)
Top passers: N: Eppler 20-38-431 6 TDs, 1 INTS; C Hitchcock 8-18-106, 3 TDs, INT
Top receivers: NA: Dickson 5–142 2 TDs, Jernigan 4-96 2 TDs, Blair 3-62, 2 TDs.
Top rushers: C: Bledsoe 24-149 TD