STORY BY TIM SCHNETTLER
ARLINGTON — Forty-eight minutes of football was not enough to crown a champion in the Class 4A Division I state championship game between the Navasota Rattlers and the Argyle Eagles on Friday. Neither was a single overtime.
Navasota’s Shelton Eppler connected on a 13-yard touchdown with Tren’Davian Dickson, and the Rattler defense stuffed Argyle’s Nick Ralston on a fourth-and-5 to put the wraps on a thrilling 42-35 double overtime victory at AT&T Stadium in front of a crowd of 20,853 that got more than its moneys worth.
The victory capped a perfect 16-0 season for the top-ranked Rattlers, giving them their second state title in the span of three years. Argyle, which came in ranked second, ended its season at 15-1 and saw its 31-game winning streak snapped.
“We knew it was going to be a game like this,” said Navasota head coach Lee Fedora. “I told our kids in the pregame talk that we had to play a full 48 minutes, but to be ready, because we might have to play extra minutes.”
The Rattlers almost didn’t get a chance to play extra after turning the ball over on downs with 3 minutes and 13 seconds left in the game and Argyle leading 28-21.
The Eagles ran the ball twice, and then facing a third-and-10 rolled out quarterback Cooper Rodgers, who, under heavy pressure from Taylor Soto, fired a pass that was intercepted by Navasota’s Jerbrell Lipscomb at the Argyle 37-yard line.
“Ahead 28-21, I thought we were in pretty good shape,” said Argyle head coach Todd Rodgers. “For us to turn it over late, its unfortunate.”
The Rattlers needed just four plays to knot the game, as Eppler scored his second 1-yard rushing touchdown of the game. Kicker Michael Martinez, who last week set the state record for PATs in a season, calmly drilled the extra point to make it 28-28.
“I guarantee you there were people sitting in the stands thinking this game was over,” Fedora said. “It wasn’t looking too good, and you could feel it. But I heard the kids going out on defense saying we were fine, let’s get a turnover. They kept fighting and Jerbrell came up with the big interception.”
Argyle needed just four plays to score on its first possession of overtime with Ralston, who finished with 221 yards on 54 carries, chewing up all 25 yards on the drive, scoring from the 7.
The Rattlers had to work a little harder to find the end zone, converting a fourth-and-10 on an 18-yard reception by Dickson. Two plays later, Eppler who was 30-of-54 for 493 yards and four touchdowns, found Dickson for a three-yard scoring pass to force a second overtime.
The Rattlers had the first offensive possession of the second overtime and did not get off to a good start. Eppler threw an incomplete pass and then the Rattlers were flagged for holding to make it second-and-20.
Eppler found Dickson for eight yards on second down and then on third Nick Gurka, who hauled in a 14-yard pass for a first down. It was the second big catch of the night for Gurka, who saw extra playing time because Davon Jernigan was injured.
“Nick Gurka made some unbelievable catches,” Fedora said. “He had to step in with Davon being injured.”
On the next play, Eppler, who earlier in the game set the state record for touchdown passes in a season, threw his fourth of the night, again to Dickson to put the Rattlers on top.
Dickson, who was named the game’s Offensive Most Valuable Player, finished the game with 12 receptions for 177 yards and four touchdowns, pushing his national record of touchdown receptions in a season to 39.
On the ensuing Argyle possession, Coy Imhoff dropped Ralston for a loss of two on first down and Lipscomb broke up a pass in the back of the end zone on second down. On third, Ralston gained eight to put the Eagles in a fourth-and-four.
The Eagles again called Ralston’s number. This time, however, stopped well short of the first down as Soto, Christon Jones, Jabril Hunter and Marquez Byrd met him at the line of scrimmage, ending the game and setting off a wild celebration on the Navasota sideline.
“He was probably one of the toughest running backs I have faced in my career,” Imhoff said of Ralston. “But we got the job done.”
The Rattlers jumped out to the lead by scoring midway through the first quarter after an Argyle punt pinned the Rattlers at their own six-yard line. Eppler and the offense needed just fur plays to cover the distance.
Eppler hit Ro’Davion Brown for 36 yards and then Gurka for another 21 before connecting with Dickson on 32-yard score. The touchdown pass for Eppler broke the state record of 68 that was set by Refugio’s Travis Quintanilla last season.
Eppler called his own number the next time the Rattlers had the ball, pushing in from 1-yard out to cap an eight-play 76-yard drive to put the Rattlers ahead 14-0.
Argyle stormed back with a pair of touchdowns on its next two possessions. Ralston scored on a 6-yard jaunt to cut the Rattler lead in half and then he added a 15-yard score just before halftime to send the teams into the locker room knotted at 14.
“We got off to a slow start and for us to get the offense rolling and tie it at halftime was a testament to the kids,” Todd Rodgers said.
Navasota drew first blood in the second half on a 26-yard Eppler to Dickson connection. Argyle tied it on a fake field goal with Drew Estrada scoring on a 1-yard run.
On the ensuing drive, Dickson made a rare mistake when he coughed up the ball at the end of 6-yard gain with Argyle’s Shane McKinney recovering it at the Navasota 35. Ralston lost a yard on the first play and then Cooper Rodgers threw back-to-back incomplete passes.
Argyle elected to go for it on fourth down and Rodgers floated a pass to the goal line that was hauled in by Hunter Markwardt for a 36-yard touchdown and a 28-21 Argyle lead.
NAVASOTA 42, ARGYLE 35 (2 OT)
First Downs 25 21
Rushes/Yards 16/(-8) 63/236
Passing Yards 493 123
Total Yards 485 359
PC-PA-PI 30-54-0 9-16-1
Punts/Avg 3/34.3 2/45
Fumbles/Lost 1/1 2/0
Penalties/Yards 9/76 4/29
NAVASOTA 7 7 7 7 7 7 — 42
ARGYLE 0 14 14 0 7 0 — 35
N — Tren’Davian Dickson 32 pass from Shelton Eppler (Michel Martinez kick) 4 plays 94 yards (6:07)
N — Shelton Eppler 1 run (Martinez kick) 8 plays 76 yards (9:49)
A — Nick Ralston 5 run (Caleb Holt kick) 6 plays 61 yards (7:09)
A — Ralston 15 run (Holt kick) 11 plays 69 (:34)
N — Dickson 26 pass from Eppler (Martinez kick) 8 plays 86 yards (6:49)
A — Drew Estrada 1 run (Holt kick) 11 plays 52 yards (1:50)
A — Hunter Markwardt 36 pass from Cooper Rodgers (Holt kick) 4 plays 35 yards (:33)
N — Eppler 1 run (Martinez kick) 4 plays 37 yards (:59)
A — Ralston 7 run (Holt kick) 4 plays 25 yards
N — Dickson 4 pass from Epler (Martinez kick) 6 plays 25 yards
N — Dickson 13 pass from Eppler (Martinez kick) 4 plays 25 yards
Top passers: N: Eppler 30-54-493 4 TDs ; A: Rodgers 9-16-123TD INT
Top receivers: N: Dickson 12-177 4 TDs, Sammy Blair 9-170, Ro’Davion Brown 4-86, Nick Gurka 3-50 ; A: J.C. Chalk 4-31, Estrada 2-43
Top rushers: N: LaMarquis Jefferson 3-20 ; A: Ralston 54-229