Tyler’s football team is a fan’s delight. The Apaches have a high-octane offense, a Division I level quarterback, three game-breaking receivers and a pair of running backs that run through and around opposing defenses.
That is what makes Tyler’s 3-2 record a bit perplexing. The Apaches enter Saturday’s 3 p.m. matchup with 11th-ranked Navarro (4-1 overall, 2-1 in the SWJCFC) fresh from an exhilarating 65-59 double-overtime victory over previously unbeaten Northeastern Oklahoma.
With its exciting offense, an opportunistic defense that has forced nine turnovers and key playmakers like quarterback Tyrik Rollison, Tyler has the ability to defeat any team in the conference. That includes the water-logged Bulldogs, who defeated Trinity Valley 21-10 by scoring all its points in the final 13 minutes in a driving rainstorm last week.
“They’ve got an explosive football team,” said Navarro Coach Brian Mayper. “Tyler (3-2, 2-1) has improved each week and they can put a ton of points on the board. They are going to really test our defense.”
Saturday’s proctor will be Rollison, a Sulphur Springs native who started his college career at Auburn and then drifted to Sam Houston State before an injury sidelined him two years ago.
Rollison joined the Apaches last season and showed flashes of brilliance as Tyler surged to the SWJCFC championship game against Navarro.
Rollison split time with Randy Price last season, but the latter is taking a medical redshirt in 2012. That leaves Rollison in command of an offense averaging 552.4 yards through five games.
Rollison leads conference quarterbacks by almost 500 yards through the air this season. He has completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 1,496 yards and has 13 touchdowns compared to only two interceptions. Jeremy Chappelle (32-476-5), Tracy Smith (27-423-4) and JaVante Mack (25-353-2) are his primary receivers. Mack caught a Hail-Mary pass as time expired that sent the NEO game into overtime.
Running backs Ryan Young (82-404-3) and Leroy Dobbins (41-265-5) are averaging more than 5.4 yards per attempt this season.
“I feel confident that our defensive coaches are going to come up with a great gameplan for (Rollinson) and their offense,” Mayper said. “We’ve got to disguise our defense some, but it comes down to our guys making plays on defense. Our guys can work like crazy in practice day in and day out, but at some point, it has to become instinct for them. When they start making instinctive plays, they will create turnovers.”
The defensive line has reached that level already. Defensive end Arnold Blackmon was named SWJCFC Defensive Player of the Week after garnering 10 tackles, six tackles for loss and a sack against Trinity Valley. Tackle Antonio Wright and reserve end Andre Ross spent much of their night in the Cardinal backfield with consistent penetration. And though he didn’t put up big numbers against Trinity Valley, end Michael Jolivet has shown the ability to harass quarterbacks all season, a much-needed commodity against Rollison this week.
“Our guys off the ends have done a super job this year,” Mayper said. “I don’t think anybody can stop (Jolivet) without holding him.”
Navarro’s offense shook off first-half doldrums to hold the ball much of the final 30 minutes against Trinity Valley. That will be a priority vs. Rollison and company.
Running back Traylon Shead had a season-high 185-yards and two scores against Trinity Valley. He leads to league with 117.8 yards per game and 11 rushing TDs, averaging 6.9 yards per attempt. The emergence of Tim Wright (7.0 yards per carry) has made the Bulldogs deep at running back and allows Navarro to control the clock and keep Tyler’s potent offense off the field.
Navarro must have a better effort from quarterback Stump Godfrey, who is 15 of 42 with three interceptions in his last two games. Godfrey’s strong arm and his ability to run the ball when the pocket breaks down makes him equally as dangerous as fellow-East Texas quarterback legend Rollison
“It may come down to which quarterback makes plays and which one doesn’t,” Mayper said. “I’m going to bank on our guy.”
Tyler at Navarro
Saturday, 3 p.m.
Radio: KAND 1340 AM
Records: 11th-ranked Navarro (4-1 overall, 2-1 in SWJCFC vs. Tyler (3-2, 2-1)
Recent History: Navarro holds a 39-35 advantage in the series, including a pair of victories last season. The Bulldogs won 34-22 in the regular season and then held off the Apaches 33-29 in the conference championship game. Navarro has won the last seven games. The last Tyler win was in 2004.
Key Players: Navarro: QB Stump Godfrey, RB Traylon Shead, WR-KR Tony Drake, TE Gerard Shillow, RB Tyler Middleton, LB D.J. Simon, RB Tim Wright, LB Stephen Maeweather, DE Andre Ross, T Aleon Calhoun, T Zach Fondal, C-T Carter Wall, DT Arnold Blackmon, DE Michael Jolivet, DT Andre Young, DT Terrell Brooks. Tyler: QB Tyrik Rollison, RB Ryan Young, RB Leroy Dobbins, WR Jeremey Chappelle, WR Tracy Smith, WR JaVante Mack, DB Robert Zenon, LB Cord Fletcher, DE Chris Loop, DL Corey Fletcher.
Game Notes: Rollison is averaging 299 yards per game through the air to go with 13 interceptions. He earned SWJCFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after passing for 503 yards and 5 TDs in a 65-59 2 OT win over NEO . . . Brothers Corey and Cord Fletcher have combined for 66 tackles and 8.5 sacks this season . . . K Santiago Escobar has shown the last two weeks he has the ability to be a factor, going 3 for 3 on field goals, including a 42-yarder . . . Middleton was sat down against Trinity Valley after only two carries, giving RB Wright a shot at extended playing time. The former La Marque star responded with 76 yards. Shead, Wright, Middelton, converted WR Drake and Tarlandus Mitchell will provide the Bulldogs with a rotation in the backfield. HC Brian Mayper hopes the fresh legs will make a huge difference in the fourth period . . . DT Antonio Wright has played in only two games this season, but he has already become a difference-maker. He had 3 stops in the backfield, recovered a fumble and forced another last week. DE Andre Ross, who moved from offense this summer, provided consistent penetration against TVCC, including a key tackle on fourth down to stop a Cardinal drive.