STORY BY TIM SCHNETTLER
WACO — For the second straight week the Navasota Rattlers got off to a slow start and found themselves in a hole. For the second straight week the Rattlers used a strong defensive showing and on offensive outburst to chalk up another victory.
Down by two points at the half, top-ranked Navasota ripped off 28 unanswered points en route to a 49-26 victory over the upset-minded Liberty Hill Panthers in a Class 4A Division I state semifinal playoff game at Baylor’s McLane Stadium.
The victory keeps the Rattlers perfect on the season (15-0) and propels them into the state championship game on Friday at 4 p.m. at AT&T Stadium in Arlington where the Rattlers will face the undefeated Argyle Eagles. Argyle was a 23-20 winner over Graham in the other semifinal.
“You could see in our kids’ eyes that they were not going to quit, they just kept fighting,” said Rattler head coach Lee Fedora. “They knew it was going to be a tough game. I was so proud of the way they kept doing the things they needed to do and take care of business.”
Before the Rattlers could contemplate making their second trip to a state championship game in three years, they had to figure out a way to bottle up the Panther’s slot-T offense that gave Navasota fits in the first half.
The Panthers (12-3) broke on top by scoring on their first two drives of the game, chewing up yards in bunches in the process. In the first half the Panthers rushed the ball 38 times for 240 yards.
The second half, however, was a different story as the Rattlers continually bottled up the Panthers, limiting them to just 65 total yards over the game’s final 24 minutes.
“The defense in the second half was outstanding,” said Fedora. “That is what helped us win the game. We knew seeing that type of offense for the first time that it was going to take time to adjust. Our defensive staff did a great job of making adjustments.”
Junior quarterback Shelton Eppler, who had his woes in the early going, righted the ship and accounted for seven touchdowns (six passing and one rushing) to pace a Rattler offense that amassed 538 total yards.
“He did an outstanding job,” Fedora said of Eppler.
Eppler threw touchdown passes to five different receivers, including two to Sammy Blair who had three receptions for 133 yards. Blair’s touchdown grabs came at the end of the first half and the start of the second half, the second giving Navasota its first lead of the game, which it would never relinquish.
Teammate Jerbrell Lipscomb also had three receptions and had a team-high 169 yards and also had one touchdown.
Both Blair and Lipscomb frequently found themselves open as the Panthers ran double coverage at Navasota’s leading receiver Tren’Davian Dickson.
“Those two guys did an outstanding job because they [Liberty Hill] were double teaming and triple teaming Tren’Davian so we had to go to our check downs,” said Fedora. “Shelton made some great throws and they made some unbelievable catches. It was great to have that many weapons.
Dickson did have four catches on the night, including his 35th touchdown reception on the season, which broke the national record of 34 that was set by Kirby Moore of Prosser, Washington.
Eppler also had touchdown passes to Lamarquis Jefferson (17 yards) and Ro’Davion Brown (5 yards).
NAVASOTA 49, LIBERTY HILL 26
NAVASOTA LIBERTY HILL
First Downs 14 16
Rushes/Yards 17/91 64-305
Passing Yards 447 44
Total Yards 538 349
PC-PA-PI 16-24-0 1-2-1
Punts/Avg 2/53.5 4/37.3
Fumbles/Lost 0/0 2/0
Penalties/Yards 3/20 1/15
NAVASOTA 0 21 14 14 — 49
LIBERTY HILL 7 19 0 0 — 26
LH — Hunter Lindsay 2 run (Lucas Rizzotto kick) 14 plays 74 yards (6:01)
LH — Nick Hernandez 15 run (Rizzotto kick) 11 plays 73 yards
N — Lamarquis Jefferson 17 pass from Shelton Eppler (Michel Martinez kick) 7 plays 78 yards (9:05)
LH — Caleb Guerin 53 run (run failed) 3 plays 30 yards (7:52)
N — Ro’Davion Brown 5 pass from Eppler (Martinez kick) 4 plays 75 yards (6:23)
LH — Guerin 4 run (run failed) 5 plays 62 yards (2:52)
N — Sammy Blair 50 pass from Eppler (Martinez kick) 5 plays 75 yards (1:13)
N — Blair 74 pass from Eppler (Martinez kick) 2 plays 77 yards (11:38)
N — Tren’Davian Dickson 65 pass from Eppler (Martinez kick) 1 play 65 yards (:51)
N — Jerbrell Lipscomb 83 pass from Eppler (Martinez kick) 2 plays 87 yards (10:37)
N — Eppler 10 run (Martinez kick) 6 plays 77 yards (5:54)
Top passers: N: Eppler 16-24-447 6 TDs; LH: Rizzotto 1-1-44
Top receivers: N: Blair 3-133 2 TDs, Lipscomb 3-169 TD, Dickson 4-86 TD; LH: Lindsay 1-44
Top rushers: N: Eppler 7-45 TD, Jefferson 8-45; LH: Guerin 18-121 2 TDs, Jon Shannon 28-133