By ROB LUDWIG / Special To The Corsicana Sun Keith Speer Photos
ATHENS — Navarro’s road to the postseason was too long and arduous to let a 31-7 halftime deficit to keep the resilient Bulldogs from making a game of the Southwest Junior College Football Conference semifinal at Trinity Valley.
The No. 14-ranked Bulldogs (6-4) rallied for more than 315 yards and 27 points in the second half, but it was failures in the return game and key penalties that ended Navarro’s season at Bruce Field, 47-34. The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for NC, which had climbed back as the No. 14 team in the most recent NJCAA Football Poll.
Behind the running of back DeAndre Cook (160 yards, three touchdowns) and key passes from quarterback Harry Woodberry (23 of 43 for 236 yards) the Bulldogs rallied in the second half to close within 11 twice.
But Navarro could not overcome a whopping 301 Trinity Valley return yards and seven drives that started at the Cardinal 40 or better. Five times No. 7 Trinity Valley (8-2) opened a series inside Bulldog territory and all resulted in touchdowns.
Cook had rushing touchdowns of 2, 63 and 16 yards, the last with 1:09 left in the third period. Navarro then added a 43-yard Benigno Heredia field goal early in the final stanza, closing within 38-27.
Trinity Valley receiver Kam Williams responded with his third touchdown reception from Shannon Eppler to rebuild the Cardinal lead.
Woodbery connected with Matt Reyna from 37 yards for a score midway in the final period, but the Cardinals rebuilt the lead to 13 when it stuffed Bulldog running back Travell Lumpkin in the end zone for a safety.
Navarro outgained Trinity Valley 435-279, but yielded 80 yards on two punt returns and 221 yards on kickoffs. The Bulldogs also extended two Cardinal scoring drives with a personal foul penalty and running into the punter flag.
Trinity Valley struck on its first play from scrimmage when Eppler hooked up with Tony Mullins, who scooted past Navarro cornerback Benjie Franklin en route to a 59-yard scoring reception. The Cardinals were set up with a a 41-yard kickoff return to open the game.
Navarro tied the score with 10:23 left in the first period when Cook capped a five-play, 63-yard drive with a 2-yard scoring run. The score was set up 36-yard punt return from Tre Brown and a 23-yard pass from Woodberry to Cook.
The Cardinals promptly scored the final 24 points of the half to grab their commanding lead.
Williams and Eppler hooked up for TD passes for 42 and 19 yards, both times with the former slipping tight coverage and scoring without being accosted by the rest of the Bulldog defense.
The Cardinals also received a 33-yard field goal from Angel Sevier and Greg Ellsworth picked off a Woodbery pass and scored from 18 yards.
The Navarro defense keyed the second half surge, shutting down Trinity Valley’s potent offense and flipping the field with key stands. The pass rush had Eppler scrambling much of the second half. The Bulldogs recorded five sacks and linebacker Trevor Denbow’s picked up his fourth interception on Trinity Valley’s first drive of the third period.
Five plays later, Cook burst through a gaping hole on the left side of an offensive line missing two starters out with injuries and rambled 63 yards for a score.
The Bulldogs followed with field goals of 33 and an NC career-long 43 yards from Heredia, another Cook scoring run and the Woodbery-to-Reyna touchdown to make it a two-score game for the first time since early in the first period.
But the Bulldogs could not overcome key penalties in the waning minutes of the game. On a critical Trinity Valley drive with Navarro trailing by 11, the Bulldogs picked up a personal foul penalty and then turned a fourth-and-nine play into a first down with a face mask on a short pass. Two plays later, Eppler scored on a 9-yard run.
Williams hauled an 18-yard TD pass on the Cardinals next drive that started at the Navarro 39 after a 40-yard punt return that gained an additional 15 yards with a facemask penalty.
The top-seeded Cardinals will advance to the SWJCFC Championship Game and will host No. 2 seed Northeastern Oklahoma A&M at 3 pm Saturday. NEO advanced from the other semifinal with a 38-34 win over Blinn at Miami, Ok.
Trinity Valley 47, Navarro 34
Navarro 7 0 17 10 — 34
TVCC 17 14 7 9 — 47
TVCC — Tony Mullins, 59-pass from Shelton Eppler. (Angel Sevier kick)
NC — DeAndre Cook, 2-run. (Benigno Heredia kick)
TVCC — Kam Williams, 42-pass from Shelton Eppler. (Angel Sevier kick)
TVCC — Angel Sevier, 33-FG
TVCC — Kam Williams, 19-pass from Shelton Eppler. (Angel Sevier kick)
TVCC — Greg Eisworth II, 18-interception return. (Angel Sevier kick)
NC — DeAndre Cook, 63-run. (Benigno Heredia kick)
NC — Benigno Heredia, 33-FG.
TVCC — Shelton Eppler, 9-run. (Angel Sevier kick)
NC — DeAndre Cook, 16-run. (Benigno Heredia kick)
NC — Benigno Heredia, 43-FG
TVCC — Kam Williams, 18-pass from Shelton Eppler. (Angel Sevier kick)
NC — Matt Reyna, 37-pass from Harry Woodbery. (Benigno Heredia kick)
TVCC: Safety. Travell Lumkpin tackled in end zone.
YARDSTICK NC TVCC
First Downs 20 18
Rushes-Yards 24-159 44-67
Passing Yards 276 212
Passing 26-46-2 18-32-1
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 0-0
Punting 8-36 9-41
Penalties 10-105 5-35
Rushing — NC: DeAndre Cook 19-160, Harry Woodberry 9-(-23), Derrick Ponder 3-(-4), Travell Lumpkin 3-26; TVCC: Shannon Eppler (14-18, Kendrick Johnson 10-33, Tony Mullins 2-(-1), Alphonso Thomas 13-29, Jaylon Henderson 3-(-12).
Passing — NC: Woodberry 23-42-2-236, Ponder 3-3-0-40; TVCC : Eppler 17-29-1-214, Henderson 1-3-0-(-2).
— NC: Josh Lister 5-51, Lumpkin 3-(-2), Cook 2-27, Kaylon Geiger 9-90, Matt Reyna 4-92, Troy Edwards 2-15, Devonte Mims 1-13; TVCC: Tony Mullins 3-71, Kam Williams 4-95, Josh Hodges 3-17, Greg Ellsworth 1-(-2), Bralon Kubecka 3-12, Torin Justice 1-7, Shane Carney 1-3, Kendrick Johnson 1-6, Tristen Wallace 1-2.
Punt Returns: TVCC 2-80; Navarro: Tre Brown 4-86
Kick Returns: TVCC 7-221; Navarro: Geiger 2-33, Lister 2-49.