Just a scant two months ago, Trinity Valley, Blinn and Navarro were the decisive favorites to vie for the Southwest Junior College Football Conference championship.
Five weeks into the 2012 season, Blinn is 2-2 overall, Trinity Valley is 0-2 in conference play after a stunning 19-17 loss at winless Cisco last week and Navarro dropped its first game in ugly fashion to Kilgore.
Blinn and Trinity Valley, which started the season ranked fifth and seventh, respectively, have since tumbled out of the Top 20.
So much for polls.
Navarro, which had risen to as high as sixth two weeks ago, dropped to 14th this week after a 45-35 loss to Kilgore that featured 20 penalties and four turnovers by the Bulldogs (3-1 overall, 1-1 in SWJCFC play).
The sledding won’t get much smoother this week when Navarro visits what should be a desperate Trinity Valley team, loser of three straight.
Trinity Valley must win Saturday at Bruce Field if it wants to maintain any playoff aspirations. A loss would put Navarro in the same predicament next week at home against Tyler.
“Both teams need a win after how they played last week,” said Navarro Coach Brian Mayper. “Trinity Valley is a very, very talented team. They just haven’t put it together, which is similar to us.”
And that’s what scares the Bulldogs as well. Trinity Valley is loaded with talent and appeared to live up to its lofty preseason ranking with blowouts of Southeast Prep (79-0) and Coffeyville (35-7) to open the season. But then current No. 1 Iowa Western blew out the Cardinals 44-20 in Athens. Kilgore opened conference the next week with a 34-16 win at Bruce Field and Trinity Valley lost its third in row when Cisco scored on the last play of the game.
Trinity Valley has offensive weapons in running backs Thad Stewart and Rufus Mason, who have combined for 549 yards. Quarterback Javia Hall has been inconsistent at times, but when he’s on, the UTEP transfer can be deadly through the air. He is tied for the conference lead with 10 TDs. Hall missed the Cisco game and his absence was obvious in the passing stats. Backup Hunter McCoy was picked off twice and threw for only six yards against the Wranglers.
The main challenge for Navarro will be attacking Trinity Valley’s top-ranked defense. The Cardinals have allowed 254.2 yards per game this season and are allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete only 40.2 percent of their passes. Opposing runners are averaging a league-low 2.5 yards per attempt.
Former University of Texas signee Quincy Russell patrols the middle of the TVCC defensive line and has 26 tackles and four sacks this season.
“This is the best secondary we’ve seen this year,” Mayper said. “They are also very good up front and they are difficult to run on. We’re going to have our work cut out for us Saturday. They are a better defense than we faced at Kilgore the other night and that was a pretty good defense.”
Navarro is still smarting from a game in which it had control early in the fourth quarter. But too many penalties, bad pass routes and bad fortune befell the Bulldogs.
Quarterback Stump Godfrey was a woeful 11 of 31 with two interceptions, the last one returned late in the fourth quarter for a touchdown to seal the Rangers’ victory.
Navarro also turned a great defensive stand into a botched blocked field goal in the second half, leading to more Kilgore points. The Rangers’ had a first and goal at the Navarro 6, but the Bulldogs propelled them back three straight downs. When Bulldog defensive tackle Terrell Brooks shot through and blocked a field goal attempt, it seemed Navarro had wrested control of the game from Kilgore. But Joe Herrick alertly picked up the loose ball and sprinted 27 yards for a score.
Navarro later had a 60-yard touchdown run by Traylon Shead erased when it was whistled for a personal foul on the other side of the field.
Repeats of such blunders cannot happen in Athens on Saturday, says Mayper.
“We’re going to have to play our best game of the year this week,” he said. “That means we must correct our route running issues we’ve been having and we’ve got to stay out of the second-and-20 and third-and-25 situations. Trinity Valley is too good a team for us to make those mistakes again this week and win.”
Navarro at Trinity Valley
Saturday, 7 p.m., Bruce Field
Radio: KAND 1340 AM
Records: 14th-ranked Navarro (3-1 overall, 1-1 in SWJCFC) and Trinity Valley (2-3, 0-2)
Recent History: Navarro and Trinity Valley combined for memorable back-to-back games at Bruce Field last November. The Cardinals rallied in the second half for a 55-51 win in the final regular season game. Navarro was back the next week in the first-round of the playoffs and clouted the Cardinals, 42-16.
Key Players: Navarro: QB Stump Godfrey, RB Traylon Shead, WR-KR Tony Drake, TE Gerard Shillow, RB Tyler Middleton, LB D.J. Simon, LB Malcolm Howard, T Aleon Calhoun, T Zach Fondal, C-T Carter Wall, DT Arnold Blackmon, DE Michael Jolivet, DT Andre Young, DT Terrell Brooks. Trinity Valley: QB Javia Hall, RB Thad Stewart, RB Rufus Mason, WR Gary Owens, WR Shakeem Jefferson, K Saul Martinez, LB DeVonte McMillian, DB Josh Scroggins, DT Quincy Russell, LB Verdial Johnson.
Game Notes: Navarro ranks No. 64 of 66 NJCAA teams in penalties (50) and penalty yards (477) this season . . . Navarro also ranks last in the conference in turnover/takeaway ratio (minus-3), the lone team not in positive figures . . . The game will feature two of the best run defenses in the league. The Cardinals allow opposing runners only 2.5 yards per tote and Navarro is yielding 2.8 per carry . . . Trinity Valley is also tops in pass defense, allowing only 40.2 percent completion percentage in a league-high 36 attempts per game . . . Hall missed last week’s game at Cisco, but he is tied for the league-lead with 10 TDs this season. Four of those scores have gone to Jefferson (13-191-4). Gary Owens (18-171-1) and former Aggie-signee Trent Momon (11-89-2) are the other threats . . . Navarro’s once-stout backfield will be a little thin this week. Cameron Washington, Tarlandus Mitchell and Tim Wright are hobbled by injuries, leaving the bulk of the work to Shead and Middleton. Shead is second in the conference in rushing (404 yards) and tied for TDs (9). Middleton is averaging 11.2 yards on his 30 carries, including 5 TDs . . . Shillow (12-196-2) has blossomed into the most consistent threat in Navarro’s passing game. The Bulldogs have lost UT-transfer Tony Jones to injury for the year, depleting the wide receiver corps.