By ROB LUDWIG / Special To The Corsicana Sun —
Brian Mayper’s happiness about his team’s 58-45 victory over Tyler three weeks ago was tempered by a very important question.
It was a question he didn’t think he’d have to answer this season. Nonetheless, he wanted to know what happened to Navarro’s running game that had to that point been so potent.
Mayper says he thinks he might have some answers just in time for the Bulldogs’ 3 p.m. date on Saturday with Tyler at Tiger Stadium in the first round of the SWJCFC playoffs.
The 12th-ranked Bulldogs (7-2) will be hosting the 15th-ranked Apaches (7-2) for the second time in two weeks. Trinity Valley hosts Kilgore in the other SWJCFC semifinal. If second-seed Navarro wins and No. 4-seed Kilgore wins, the Bulldogs will hosts the Rangers next week for the championship. Wins by top seed Trinity Valley and Navarro, the Bulldogs will travel to Athens for the title tilt.
Navarro easily leads the nation in rushing, averaging more than 331 yards per game. But Tyler held the Bulldogs to only 185 yards on the ground and just 3.7 yards per carry in the first meeting. Even SWJCFC leading rusher Ke’Aun Kinner struggled for yardage, fighting for 106 yards on 31 rugged carries.
The Bulldogs more than compensated through the air as quarterback Carson Earp completed 24 of 36 passes for a season-high 383 yards and five touchdowns.
“(Tyler) had some different twists on defense that gave us some trouble,” Mayper said. “We were able to make things happen passing the football and that was the difference.
“The good thing is that we controlled the line of scrimmage the whole game. As long as we stay on task in this game, we’re going to be OK running the football.”
Tyler, which handed Navarro the second seed by virtue of its 55-44 win over Kilgore last week, possesses one of the most dangerous offenses in the country. Navarro saw that in the first meeting as quarterbacks Sedarian Copeland and Tevon Muse combined for five touchdown passes. Copeland, who plays the majority of each game for the Apaches, is also fleet afoot, averaging 11.7 yards vs. Navarro and gaining 432 yards for Tyler this season.
“We kind of slowed down (the Tyler offense) some in the first game, but they still were able to do a lot in their passing game,” Mayper said. “They try to get (Chaston) Bennett going on the ground and let Copeland open things up throwing the football. A lot of what they do is isolating a guy and chunking it up to them. Their receivers make some great catches. Our secondary has to stay focused.”
Achieving a pass rush to harass the Tyler quarterbacks might be a little easier this week after the Bulldogs took down Blinn signal-caller Jake Hubenak nine times.
The maturation of the Bulldog defense, which has forced 10 turnovers in the last two weeks, is another sign Navarro is meshing at the right time of the year.
“Since about the Arkansas Baptist game, we’ve gone lighter on some things in practice,” Mayper said. “The kids seem to have more ownership in the team and there’s more sense of family.
“We’re slowly making that upward climb.”
No. 15 Tyler (7-2) at No. 12 Navarro (7-2)
Saturday, 3 p.m.
Tiger Stadium, Corsicana
Radio: KAND 1340 AM
RECENT HISTORY: Navarro defeated Tyler 58-45 after building a 27-point lead late in the third quarter. QB Carson Earp passed for season-highs of 383 yards and 5 TDs. The teams have met 78 times since the series began in 1958. Navarro leads the series, 42-36. Navarro’s won 10 of the last 11 meetings and had won a series record 8 straight until the 2013. The 105 combined points two weeks ago was a series single-game record, but nothing unusual lately. Eight of the last 18 meetings since 1996 have produced 80 or more points.
Key Players: Navarro: WR JaBryce Taylor, RB Ke’aun Kinner, QB Carson Earp, S Kyron Minter, OL Maurice Porter. Tyler: QB Sederian Copeland, RB Chaston Bennett, DB J.T. Luper, DB Tre Rosser.
Game Notes: Navarro needed to win against Blinn and have Tyler defeat Kilgore by 10 points to earn a first-round home game in the SWJCFC playoffs. Both teams did their parts, as Navarro rolled past Blinn and Tyler eased past the Rangers, 55-44 … Kinner and Tyler RB Chaston Bennett lead all NJCAA backs with 19 TDs … Navarro LB Jayd Kirby is tied for sixth in the nation with 10 sacks … DE Quincy Vasser has compiled 16 TFLs, tops in the SWJCFC … Kinner is averaging 158.8 yards per game and is second in the NJCAA with 1,429 yards … Tyler K Ljundrim Kaba is one of the most dangerous kickers in the nation … he is 9-of-10 on field goals and has converted on all but one of 64 PATs … the heavily-recruited Kaba also completed a pass for 36 yards in the first game against Navarro.