By ROB LUDWIG / Special To The Corsicana Daily Sun
After watching a 21-point lead vanish in the third quarter last week, Navarro Coach Brian Mayper is staying wary of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in the regular season finale.
The Bulldogs eventually scored 14 answered points and leaned on a strong defensive effort in the fourth quarter to drop Blinn, 42-28, last week. NEO, which upset Navarro during the regular season last year, limps into its final game of the season with a 3-5 record and out of the SWJCFC playoff race with a 1-4 mark.
That contrasts Navarro’s chance, albeit an outside one, of hosting a first-round playoff game next week.
At 6-2 overall and 3-2 in league play, the Bulldogs may be destined for a return visit to Tyler, which defeated Navarro 17-7 earlier this year.
If Navarro and Tyler win, Navarro will visit the Apaches in the first round. If Navarro and Kilgore (3-4, 3-2) defeats Tyler (7-1, 4-1), it will come down to a points system. If things break the Bulldogs’ way, they will host Kilgore in the first round and Tyler will play at Trinity Valley. If Navarro loses to NEO, it will be the fourth seed and play at a surging Trinity Valley team that dispatched the Bulldogs 35-7 in Corsicana earlier this season.
Regardless of how things break this weekend, Navarro finds itself in a similar position as 2012 when it lost a pair of a league games and had to play the entire playoffs on the road. The Bulldogs went on to avenge losses to Kilgore and NEO in dominating fashion to claim the SWJCFC championship.
“It’s all in the mindset of our players right now,” Mayper said. “We’re in a relentless pursuit of perfection. If we achieve that, we’ll be OK. As long as we do that on both sides of the ball, we’re going to be just fine.
“If we don’t accomplish that, we’re going to be in some trouble.”
NEO could provide some trouble on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Tiger Stadium. Under first-year Head Coach Sherard Poteete, the Golden Norse has had some success and has been in most conference games. Last week, NEO defeated Cisco, 21-14.
No. 14-ranked Navarro will likely do what it does best against the Golden Norse. The second-best running team in the conference behind Tyler, Navarro will be facing a NEO team that is yielding a league-worst 229 yards per game and almost 5 yards per carry.
Watch for running back Tim Wright to make a run for the records in this game. The sophomore from La Marque is just 215 yard off the single-season record and is only four off the single-season touchdown record.
NEO will counter with an offensive attack led by quarterback Tony Keifer. The freshman signal-caller is second on the team in rushing (458 yards, 5 TDs) and is third in the conference in passing (83-153-9-1,003).
“He reminds me a lot of the quarterback they had a few years ago (Brian Bowling), who ended up playing slot receiver at Oklahoma State,” Mayper said. “He’s very athletic and gets their football team moving.”
Navarro thought it had its own offense moving with regularity against Blinn, outscoring the Bucs 28-7 after two quarters. But the offense went on a hiatus in the third quarter and Blinn went on a 21-point scoring spree to knot the game.
The Bulldogs rebounded with a strong fourth quarter, riding behind the legs of Wright and fellow back Cameron Washington.
Navarro hopes not to have a similar mid-game slump this week.
“Our kids though we had the game won at halftime last week, but the only problem was we had another half to play,” Mayper said. “We had a major lack of focus in the third quarter. It was a lack of focus on offense, defense and special teams.
“I guess we ran plays that worked in the fourth quarter and we made the correct adjustments on defense.
“If we are going to win against NEO and then in the playoffs, then we cannot have lapses like that again. We’ve got to remember to have that mindset that we’re in relentless pursuit of perfection. That’s the only way we can be thinking from here on out.”