STORY BY TIM SCHNETTLER
LUFKIN — The Navasota Rattlers got their toughest test of the season Saturday afternoon against the Henderson Lions, but when all was said and done they found a way to win.
After falling behind 14-0 the Rattlers stormed back with 34 unanswered points to take a 34-14 victory in a Class 4A Region 3 Quarterfinal matchup at Lufkin’s Abe Martin Stadium.
“I was real proud of them,” Rattler head coach Lee Fedora said. “We went down 14-0 and I was standing on the sideline trying to figure out the things we could adjust and get done. We made those adjustments and were able to get some quick points and make it 14-14 at the half. We came out and won the second half and I thought they did a great job with the adjustments.”
The victory improves the Rattlers’ record to 14-0 on the season and sets up a semifinal matchup with Liberty Hill, which defeated Burnet. The teams will meet Friday at 7 p.m. at Baylor’s McLane Stadium. The winner of that game will play for the state title at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Dec. 19.
Henderson, which was the champion of District 9-4A and had visions of upsetting Class 4A’s top-ranked team, saw its season come to an end with an 11-3 record.
Unlike their previous 13 games where the Rattlers found the end zone 62 times via the pass, Navasota didn’t have one passing touchdown, as all five scores came on rushes.
“We started noticing they were playing deep coverage and they were saying we want you to run the ball or throw short passes,” Fedora said. “I thought we did a good job of that.”
The Rattlers didn’t put up an abundance of rushing yards, finishing with 125 on 23 carries, but LaMarquis Jefferson and Shelton Eppler each had a pair of rushing touchdowns and Keyondrick Philio added another.
The Rattler offense got off to a slow start despite driving deep into Henderson territory on the game’s opening drive, turning the ball over on downs after failing to convert a fourth-and-20.
Henderson didn’t do much offensively either, mainly because of the play of the Rattler defense, which had a stellar game, holding the Lions to 197 total yards on the day.
The Lions’ two touchdown drives both started in Navasota territory, the first from the 47 after a punt and the other at the 23 after a fumble by the Navasota offense.
“One of those touchdowns was really kind of on us because we fumbled the ball and gave them great field position,” Fedora said. “They [the defense] kept fighting and we were able to put points on the board and you could see the energy level on our sideline go up.”
Navasota seemed to find its stride offensively late in the second quarter after the Rattler defense forced a three-an-out and a punt that rolled dead at the Navasota 35-yard line.
The Rattlers needed a mere five plays to cover the yardage. A pass on the fourth play of the drive to Tren’Davian Dickson set the Rattlers up at the Henderson 4-yard line and on the next play Jefferson burst up the middle to the end zone, breathing life into the Navasota sideline in the process.
The Navasota defense capitalized on the momentum shift, forcing its second consecutive three-and-out to get the ball back for the offense.
The Rattlers had to go 73 yards for the tying score, with the big play a pass to Davon Jernigan to the Henderson 1-yard line. Eppler called his own number and bulled his way in for the score, with the Michel Martinez extra point knotting the score.
With momentum clearly on the Navasota side, Henderson was forced to punt on its first possession of the second half, and after a return by Dickson and a penalty on Henderson, the Rattlers set up shot at the Lions’ 38. Jefferson gave the Rattlers their first lead of the day when he went in from 10-yards out.
Navasota missed an opportunity to seize complete control of the game after Henderson failed to convert on a fourth down from its own 35. The Rattlers couldn’t capitalize, however, as La’Kendrick Vanzandt came up with an interception on a ball that went off the hands of Jerbrell Lipscomb.
The Rattlers did stretch the lead to two touchdowns the next time they got the ball, marching 68 yards in six plays, with Eppler scoring from 13-yards out.
Henderson threatened to slice into the Rattler lead midway through the fourth quarter, but after getting a first-and-goal at the Rattler 10. Two rushing plays moved the ball to the 1, but on third down Christon Jones broke through the Henderson front line and dropped running back Randy Davis for a 3-yard loss.
Things went from bad to worse on the play for the Lions, when one of its offensive linemen was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. As a result Henderson faced fourth-and-goal from the 19, rather that from the 4.
On the ensuing play, Jernigan intercepted quarterback Zane Boles in the end zone, sealing the victory for the Rattlers, who went on to add another score on a 2-yard run by Philio.
NAVASOTA 34, HENDERSON 14
First Downs 11 14
Rushes/Yards 40/129 23-125
Passing Yards 68 266
Total Yards 197 391
PC-PA-PI 7-17-126 22-31-1
Punts/Avg 5/53.2 3/50
Fumbles/Lost 2/0 1/1
Penalties/Yards 6/45 1/15
HENDERSON 7 7 0 0 — 14
NAVASOTA 0 14 14 6 — 34
H — Le’Kendrick Vanzandt 4 run (Julio Cervantes kick) 8 plays 47 yards (1:44)
H — Randy Davis 13 run (Cervantes kick) 4 plays 23 yards (7:48)
N — LaMarquis Jefferson 4 run (Michel Martinez kick) 5 plays 65 yards (3:14)
N — Shelton Eppler 1 run (Martinez kick) 9 plays 73 yards (1:07)
N — Jefferson 10 run (Martinez kick) 5 plays 38 yards (7:57)
N — Eppler 13 run (Martinez kick) 6 plays 68 yards (2:20)
N — Keyondrick Philio 2 run (kick failed) 7 plays 62 yards (2:36)
Top passers: N: Eppler 22-31-266 INT; H: Zane Boles 7-17-68 INT
Top receivers: N: Jerbrell Lipscomb 8-72 4 TDs; H: Trestan Ebner 3-39
Top rushers: N: Jefferson 18-110 2 TDs; H: Davis 17-65 TD