Quick strike Rattlers

Defending state champions score late to stave off Big Blue in loop showdown
BY BILL MARTIN
Reporter Sports Editor


Rockdale quarterback Clayton Gibbs was in constant motion Friday against Navasota, passing for 200 yards and running for 134 more with a hand in all three Tiger touchdowns. 
Reporter/Cliff Dungan Rockdale quarterback Clayton Gibbs was in constant motion Friday against Navasota, passing for 200 yards and running for 134 more with a hand in all three Tiger touchdowns. Reporter/Cliff Dungan There’s something about playing a state champion that brings out the best in the Rockdale Tigers.

They have faced two this season in Cameron and Navasota and were prepared to put a chink in the king’s armor once again.

Aiming for their first district crown since 1999, the Tigers played even with No. 10 and defending Class 3A state champion Navasota until the fourth quarter when the Rattlers used their quick-strike speed to score three times and pull away 42-21 Friday night at Tigerland Field.

In a game that will go a long way in deciding the District 18-3A champion, Navasota stopped Rockdale’s four-game winning streak and defeated the Tigers for the eighth straight time in a series that dates back to 1935.

Big Blue slips to 5-4 overall and 2-1 in league play with a playoff berth already secured. The Tigers are off this week before traveling to Caldwell Nov. 1 to end the regular season.

Navasota stands 7-1 on the season and 2-0 in district play with games against Caldwell and Taylor remaining.

The Rattlers have won 17 straight district contests, last losing in 2009.

“I’m not worried about what the scoreboard says,” said Rockdale Coach Jeff Miller. “I can’t explain how proud I am of the effort. Of not coming out afraid and giving them all they wanted.

“We wanted this one. We wanted it really bad.”

The Tigers proved that from the start after being pinned down at their own five after a Navasota punt, by driving 95 yards to grab an early 7-0 lead when Clayton Gibbs— who ran for 108 yards in the first half—darted through the Rattler defense for 56 yards and the score.

After forcing Navasota to kick the ball away on its second straight possession, Gibbs found Austin Caffey over the middle for a 20-yard hookup and Big Blue led 14-0 with 11 minutes, 14 seconds left in the first half.

Navasota scored twice in the second quarter on a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Shelton Eppler to Tren’davion Dickson from 68 and 34 yards out to tie the game at 14 at halftime.

“They were unbelievable in the first half,” said Navasota Coach Lee Fedora. “And I told our kids, ‘Guys, just watch the Cameron film. It’s about how we come out in the second half.’

“We knew it was going to be a dogfight.”

Fedora was so impressed with the Tigers’ effort, he addressed the team after the game.

Navasota opened the second half with a 66-yard sprint by Derrion Randle, the first of his two scores in the half, to provide the Rattlers with their first lead of the evening, 21-14.

However, Big Blue answered right back, with a 14-play, 88-yard journey, culminated by Gibbs’ two-yard dive with 1:47 left in the third quarter and the game entered the final period tied 21-21.

“I guarantee, they were worried after the third quarter,” Miller said.

However from that point, the Rattlers dominated, scoring three times in a six minute span to seal the game up.

With Navasota leading 28-21, Rockdale was driving down the field to tie the game, but Gibbs was stopped short on a fourthand four at the 23-yard line.

Eppler (280 yards) and the Rattlers used the defensive opportunity to find Jerbrell Lipscomb on a 78-yard scoring strike for a 35-21 lead with 6:20 remaining to be played.

Randle (167 yards) swept around left end for 51 yards to account for the Rattlers’ final score on their next possession.

“In the first three quarters of the game, we felt like we were in control of the situation and the tempo of the game,” Miller said. “We knew that their speed was going to hurt us eventually. It was the difference in the game.”

To keep the ball out of Navasota’s hands, the Tigers looked to establish their running game early and it worked to perfection due to the dealing of Gibbs, who proved to be elusive in the first half with 108 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with a career-high 134 rushing yards.

The senior also threw for 200 yards and a score and with the yardage, set a new school record with 2,048 yards in a season, breaking Ethan Brinkley’s mark of 2,037 set in 2011.

“That’s a great football team,” Miller said. “We showed we were good enough to play with anybody. We’re a better team now than we were st the beginning of the game because we played them.”

TIGER TRACKS

• As far as potential playoff opponents go, District 17-3A is a big ol’ mess, with four teams tied for first. Lorena, Robinson, Connally and LaVega are all 2-1 with two games left to play. If all four win out, the Tigers would face Lorena again as they did in 2012.

• While Elijah Brooks had his 100-yard game streak stopped at four, he needs just three yards to crack the 1,000-yard barrier for the season. When Brooks accomplishes that, he will become just the third Tiger to post consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

• With his 77 yards Friday, Brooks joined just seven other Tigers who have rushed for over 2,000 yards in their career, including father Tony (2,145) and brother Daniel (2,378). Brooks stands at 2,042.

• With four grabs Friday, Austin Caffey has now become the first Tiger to catch 100 passes in a career. The senior has 30 this season.

• Pearce Loth is on line to break several Tiger receiving records. His 45 catches is just seven behind Cody Skubal’s season mark of 52. His 798 yards is just 112 behind Skubal’s 910 yards. Both marks were set in 2011. Loth is the third ranked receiver in Class 3A.

• Senior defensive back Ladontice Coates led the Tigers in tackles against Navasota with seven. James David, James Castilleja and Stephen Ehler had five each. Coates is the season leader with 67, followed by David with 61.

• Two-way lineman starter Jakob Moreland missed the Navasota game with concussion like symptoms. He was replaced by junior Javier Mayberry who played well enough to be named the co-offensive lineman of the week along with Dillan Ford.

• Former lineman starter Michael Boyd, who has missed six games with a dislocated kneecap has decided to forgo surgery and was cleared to play against Navasota, although he did not suit up. He will play against Caldwell in two weeks.

• Hayden Offield suffered a concussion and Pudgy Burgess an ankle sprain against Navasota.

• The Tigers are undoubtedly a first half team. Of the 313 points they have scored this season, 126 have come in the first quarter and 212 in the first half. They have allowed 245 points, 152 in the second half.


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