BY ROB LUDWIG / Special To The Corsicana Daily Sun
It is not easy to understand just what the Navarro Bulldogs are thinking these days.
Not even their coach knows what’s on the minds of his team after losing 35-7 last week to Trinity Valley, snapping a home-game conference winning streak that dated back to 2006.
The loss dropped the Bulldogs to 4-1 and from No. 1 to No. 8 in the NJCAA rankings.
The enthusiasm and focus in practices and preparation for Saturday’s game against No. 6 Tyler at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium has been the same as it was prior to facing off against a talented Trinity Valley ballclub, according to Navarro coach Brian Mayper.
“It’s a hard crew to get a read on,” he said. “I’ve never been around a team like this.
“We practiced fine last week and then we came out and did nothing in the game. It’s been the same this week in practice.”
Mayper hopes the weekend result will be different. But it won’t be easy. Tyler is even more explosive than Trinity Valley offensively and has proved to be opportunistic on defense en route to a 5-0 record and moving into the No. 6 NJCAA ranking.
Never was that more evident than last Thursday in Miami, Okla. Down early to Northeastern Oklahoma, the Apaches scored 35 unanswered points in the middle quarters to win convincingly, 63-49.
Running back Leroy Dobbins was the focus of Tyler’s offense, rushing for 185 yards and landing him the SWJCFC Offensive Player of the Week Award.
If Dobbins, who averages more than 130 yards rushing per game, isn’t burning the defense, the Apaches turn to quarterbacks Randy Price and Matt Davis.
A third-year sophomore, Price is dangerous on the ground (8.4 yards per carry) or through the air (10 TDs), though he’s been intercepted four times and is completing only 54 percent of his passes.
Davis is a transfer from Texas A&M and has come off the bench to account for seven touchdowns with accurate passing (62.5 percent) and deft running (6.7 yards an attempt).
“They throw and run the ball equally well this season,” Mayper said. “It seems like they try to run the ball a little bit more, especially the zone read. But they can also be effective passing the ball.”
Tyler’s defense, led by sophomore linebacker Kenny Iloka (55 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks) hasn’t been as equally adept at stopping opponents. The Apaches have been yielding 371.8 yards per game, including 175 yards on the ground, good for fifth in the conference. Tyler has offset those numbers by forcing 14 turnovers and is tied with Navarro with plus-5 in turnovers-takeaways this season.
Navarro is hoping quarterback Alex Allen’s second career start is better than his first when he averaged only 4.8 yards in a 12-of-24 performance against Trinity Valley last week. Allen did have some success with the quarterback draw, but he was sacked eight times and found himself under an ever-collapsing pocket.
To ease the pressure on Allen, Navarro may turn to its running game to carry the team. It worked a year ago against Tyler when the Bulldogs rushed for 364 yards and put two runners over the 100-yard mark.
“If we eliminate the mistakes, we should have success,” Mayper said. “Our practices this week have been the same as last week. We won’t know until we get there about how we’re going to play.
“We’ve got to focus on ourselves and not (Tyler). We were fine last week and then played poorly on Saturday. We’ve been fine again this week. We’ll see how we’ll be Saturday night.”
No.8 Navarro at No. 6 Tyler
Saturday, 7 p.m. Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium
Radio: KAND 1340AM
RECORDS: No. 8-ranked Navarro (4-1 overall, 2-1 in SWJCFC) and No. 6 Tyler (5-0, 2-0)
RECENT HISTORY: Navarro scored a dominating 52-35 win over Tyler in Tiger Stadium last season, racking up 664 yards total offense. The Bulldogs led 31-7 at the half and had a season-high 32 first downs in the victory.
KEY PLAYERS: Navarro: OL Carter Wall, RB Tim Wright, RB Cameron Washington, LB Dominique Kelly, WR Markel Steward-Gillespie, OL Tim Hines, DE Desmond Owino, DL Kerry Holiday, DL John Williams, CB Sherman Gilbert, S Aaron Shaw, S Alex Miller, CB KeUntis Thompson, LB Chrishard Buhl, WR Devin Lauderdale, WR Austin Collins, QB Alex Allen. Tyler: QB Randy Price, QB Matt Davis, RB Leroy Dobbins, RB Terrance Taylor, WR-KR Lamar Carraway, WR Joshua Reynolds, WR Jonathan Epps, LB Kenny Iloka, DL Caleb Tuiasosopo, DB Devante Davis, DE Colton Moorehead, DB Savion Brown, LB Caleb Williams, DL Will Coleman, DL Darian Morris, DB Tre Rosser.
GAME NOTES: Tyler has a two-headed threat at quarterback in Price and Davis. Price, a redshirt sophomore, is the starter and has 10 TD passes this season, though he’s completing only 54 percent of his passes … Davis, a transfer from Texas A&M, is completing 63 percent of his passes with 5 scores and is averaging 6.7 yards per rush … he’s two weeks removed from the NJCAA Offensive Player of the Week award … RB Dobbins averages a league-best 134.5 yards per game rushing this season … Robbins is averaging 8.3 yards per carry … he had a 185-yard effort in Tyler’s 63-42 win over NEO last week … the Apaches are stacked at receiver, starting with Reynolds, who leads SWJCFC pass-catchers with 7 TDs this season … Carraway is a threat in many ways, leading the team with 21 catches in addition to averaging 19.5 on a pair of punt returns and 30.2 yards on a team-high 13 kick returns … Navarro will likely lean heavily on its running attack this week for multiple reasons … it will shorten the game and limit Tyler’s possessions …. and it will ease the pressure on QB Allen in his second start in lieu of Josh Greer, who is still sidelined because of a broken collarbone … Allen struggled in the pocket in last week’s 35-7 loss to Trinity Valley, averaging less than 5 yards per completion and 4.8 yards per attempt … Allen also was sacked 8 times, though he was effective at times on the quarterback draw … Wright and Washington to go against a spread out defense . . . Greer is completing 66.2 percent of his passes this year and Lauderdale is averaging 29.9 yards on 9 catches, four of which resulted in scores.