Top-Ranked Navasota Comes From Behind To Eliminate Henderson In Quarterfinals
LUFKIN -- The Henderson Lions laid out a seemingly brilliant blueprint on how to defeat top-ranked juggernaut Navasota, getting off to a fast start and keeping the Rattlers' historically prolific quarterback-and-receiver duo out of the end zone for the first time all season.
But in the end, a smothering Navasota defense and a surprising star in the Rattlers' backfield were too much for Henderson to overcome in a 34-14 loss in their Class 4A Division I state quarterfinal Saturday afternoon at Abe Martin Stadium.
Navasota (14-0) moved on to next week's semifinals against Liberty Hill, while Henderson, a team with modest outside expectations at the beginning of the season, concluded the year with an 11-3 record.
"Unless you've been part of a team like that, unless you've been a part of a team that, every week, has to accomplish more than anyone thinks you can and overcome adversity over and over again … then you can't understand it," said Henderson second-year coach Phil Castles.
Henderson certainly grabbed Navasota's attention early by grabbing a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter, thanks to superb play from its defense and special teams. But the Rattlers closed with 34 unanswered points, and limited Henderson to less than 200 total yards for the afternoon.
Navasota's junior tandem of quarterback Shelton Eppler and receiver Tren'davian Dickson have lit up opposing defenses all season long. Eppler entered Saturday with 61 touchdown passes on the year, seven shy of tying the state record, while Dickson's 34 scoring receptions are already a state mark.
But unlike the proven formula that's yielded Navasota an average of 60 points and more than 570 yards per game, Henderson's defense forced the Rattlers to find other ways to keep winning.
Eppler passed for 255 yards and ran for a couple of scores, but failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 14 games this year. Dickson, a Baylor commit who came in with more than 1,700 receiving yards in 2014, caught four balls for 63 yards and was shut out of the end zone.
"Our secondary did such a good job and our front did such a good job," Castles said. "We had a good game plan, our defensive coaches did a super job with the game plan, and the kids executed it; I was very proud. It kept us in the ballgame against a very prolific offense, and I can't say enough about our defense. They stepped up over and over, and tonight was no exception."
Instead, Navasota turned to senior running back LaMarquis Jefferson, who is filling in for injured starter and Rattlers' leading rusher Derrion Randle.
Jefferson rushed for a game-high 113 yards and three touchdowns, two of which came in the third quarter that broke a tie at halftime and gave Navasota a two-touchdown lead going into the fourth. His 39-yard run to the Henderson 2-yard line late in the game set up the Rattlers' final score, effectively putting the game out of reach.
That came moments after the game's most pivotal sequence.
After Henderson's first three drives of the third quarter netted just 20 yards, the Lions finally found success against Navasota's aggressive and athletic defense. Henderson converted three third downs and eventually faced a third-and-goal from the 1, looking to cut Navasota's lead to seven points with a little more than six minutes remaining in the game.
But Lions running back Randy Davis was swallowed for a 3-yard loss by Navasota junior defensive tackle Christion Jones, and a Henderson unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the play resulted in a fourth-and-goal from the 19.
Henderson quarterback Zane Boles was then intercepted in the end zone by Davon Jernigan, who returned the back-breaking pick 41 yards to the Rattlers' 38, keeping Navasota ahead, 28-14, with 6:09 to play.
The Lions' drive consisted of 18 plays and consumed more than eight minutes, but resulted in no points.
Jefferson then carried the ball five consecutive times for 60 yards, getting injured on his long run to the Henderson 2 on a third-and-short play. Keyondrick Philio replaced Jefferson and scored on the next play to seal the Navasota win.
"That was big, but there were several other big ones, too," Castles said of Henderson's offensive sequence at the goal line. "You can go back and analyze, and there were several mistakes here and there. But I'll tell you this: our kids have played above their head all year long. That, to me, is more important than any mistake we had out here; we don't have any regrets. We played a whale of a team, a good ballgame, and no regrets about any of it."
Boles, a 6-5, 205-pound senior, found the going rough against Navasota's defense all afternoon. One week after totaling 347 yards of offense and accounted for six touchdowns in a 60-43 win over Jasper, Boles was limited to 50 rushing yards on 20 carries and completed only 7 of 19 attempts for 62 yards.
Castles heaped praise on Boles following the game, despite the tough performance.
"His character alone is the biggest part of what he does, and what he brings to this football team," he said of Boles, who led Henderson to its first district championship since 2000 earlier this season. "He's a great athlete, super determined, tough kid. Over and over he's banged up and never says a word. He's been sick all week and still plays. He had an eye infection for a couple games and could barely see. Over and over he just steps up and does a tremendous job. He's got a great future at whatever he does."
Navasota's defense made several plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. The Rattlers forced Henderson into 11 plays that either went for negative yardage or no gain. Jones, a 5-11, 270-pound monster up front, led the way with a sack and three tackles for loss.
"They just did a great job," Castles said of Navasota's defensive performance. "They're well-coached … they fit everything right and made good adjustments to all of our backfield sets and our front sets -- probably as good as anybody's done all year. And they've got a good, athletic football team."
Henderson's defense and special teams helped the Lions build a surprising 14-0 second-quarter lead on the heavily-favored Rattlers squad.
Navasota was stopped on downs at the Henderson 20 on the game's initial series, and after a Henderson three-and-out, Boles boomed a punt that rolled 71 yards, all the way to the Navasota 6. Henderson forced the Rattlers into a quick punt, and began its second possession at the Navasota 47.
Boles picked up five yards on fourth-and-4 to set up a first-and-goal, and La'Kendrick Vanzandt's 3-yard touchdown run on the very next play gave Henderson a 7-0 lead with 1:44 remaining in the first quarter.
Two Navasota possessions later, Jefferson was stripped after making a reception, and Vanzandt recovered for Henderson at the Rattlers' 23. Randy Davis' 13-yard scoring run four plays later pushed Henderson's lead to 14-0 with 7:48 showing on the second-quarter clock.
Henderson picked up just one more yard the rest of the half, while Navasota's offense sprung to life in time to tie the game before halftime. A 33-yard completion from Eppler to Dickson set up Jefferson's 4-yard touchdown to get the Rattlers on the board, and Eppler's 42-yard strike to Jernigan immediately preceded Eppler's 1-yard scoring run that evened the game at 14-14 with 1:07 remaining in the half.
Navasota then scored on two of its three third-quarter possessions -- Jefferson touchdown runs of 10 and 13 yards -- to build a 28-14 lead. Meanwhile, Henderson's first three series of the quarter ended with two punts and a turnover on downs.
No. 1 Navasota 34, Henderson 14
Class 4A Division I Quarterfinal
At Abe Martin Stadium, Lufkin
Henderson 7 7 0 0 -- 14
Navasota 0 14 14 6 -- 34
HEN--La'Kendrick Vanzandt 3 run (Julio Cervantes kick), 1:44.
HEN--Randy Davis 13 run (Cervantes kick), 7:48.
NAV--LaMarquis Jefferson 4 run (Elijah Cage), 3:14.
NAV--Shelton Eppler 1 run (Cage kick), 1:07.
NAV--Jefferson 10 run (Cage kick), 7:57.
NAV--Jefferson 13 run (Cage kick), 2:20.
NAV--Keyondrick Philio 2 run (kick failed), 2:36.
First Downs 13 19
Total Yards 191 392
Rushes-Yards 43-129 28-137
Passing Yards 62 255
Comp.-Att.-Int. 7-19-1 20-29-1
Punts-Avg. 6-52.8 3-50.7
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 3-1
Penalties-Yards 6-45 1-15
RUSHING--Henderson, Randy Davis 17-57, Zane Boles 20-50, La'Kendrick Vanzandt 6-22. Navasota, LaMarquis Jefferson 18-113, Jerbrell Lipscomb 2-17, Shelton Eppler 7-5, Keyondrick Philio 1-2.
PASSING--Henderson, Boles 7-19-11--62. Navasota, Eppler 20-28-1--255, Kae'ron Baker 0-1-0--0.
RECEIVING--Henderson, Trestan Ebner 2-30, Vanzandt 2-16, Davis 2-9, Matthew Childers 1-7. Navasota, Lipscomb 6-54, Tren'davian Dickson 4-64, Davon Jernigan 3-60, Sammy Blair 2-29, Coy Imhoff 2-23, NIck Gurka 1-15, Jefferson 1-8, Ro'davion Brown 1-2.