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Navasota pushes El Campo until end, but Ricebirds win 45-35 in district opener

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NAVASOTA — The sky was clear over Rattler Stadium on Friday night, but there was no shortage of fireworks between El Campo and Navasota in their District 12-4A Division I opener.

Both teams’ offenses put on a show in front a packed house as senior running back Rueben Owens led the Ricebirds to a 45-35 victory.

Owens, a five-star recruit committed to Louisville ran for 291 yards and five touchdowns on 35 carries. The Navasota defense seemingly had no answer for Owens, who averaged 8.3 yards a rush.

“[The game plan was] to do the best you could to contain him,” Navasota head coach Casey Dacus said. “You saw tonight that’s not a really easy thing for us to handle, and not just us but anybody. There’s a reason why he is who he is. We’ll learn from it and get better.”

The El Campo offense also featured junior running backs Drake Resendez and Stephen Norman, who had 63 and 62 yards, respectively.

On the other side, the Rattlers (3-2, 0-1) had a pair of rushers with at least 70 yards and a touchdown each as junior quarterback Hudson Minor amassed 96 yards on the ground, and senior tailback Deontray Scott ran for 70 yards.

Navasota jumped to an early lead as Scott rushed for 53 yards on the Rattlers’ first drive, dashing in from 8 yards for a 6-0 Navasota lead. The Rattlers then bolstered their lead on the Ricebirds’ first drive as sophomore Jarrad Isaiah recovered a fumble and returned it 52 yards for another TD. A successful two-point conversion by Scott gave Navasota a 14-0 lead after six minutes.

El Campo (3-2, 1-0) didn’t waste any time responding as Owens broke off a 72-yard touchdown run on the next play from scrimmage to bring the Ricebirds within a touchdown. After forcing a turnover on downs, El Campo scored the equalizer on its next drive as senior quarterback Brock Rod plunged into the end zone from a yard out to tie the game at 14.

The Ricebirds’ momentum continued as head coach Chad Worrell reached into his bag of tricks and called for an onside kick. Navasota was caught off-guard, and El Campo recovered. Eleven plays later, Owens trotted in for a 2-yard score to put the Ricebirds on top 21-14.

The Rattlers leveled the score at 21 with 1:28 left in the first half as junior running back Jamall Thomas rushed for a 6-yard touchdown. Minor set up the score with a 50-yard quarterback keeper two plays prior.

Navasota picked up some steam of its own as senior M’Kheilan Woods recovered an El Campo fumble on the ensuing kickoff at the Ricebirds’ 17-yard line. On the next play, Minor took the direct snap to paydirt to put the Rattlers on top 28-21 at halftime.

Owens and El Campo went to work to open the second half as the running back rushed for 60 yards on the third quarter’s opening drive, capped off with an 8-yard touchdown run to tie things up. The Ricebirds forced a turnover on downs on Navasota’s ensuing 14-yard drive, and Owens had a 40-yard TD run to wrap up the next drive and put the visitors on top 35-28.

El Campo’s defense stiffened further, forcing a three-and-out on the Rattlers’ next drive. With 4:51 remaining, the Ricebirds’ offense responded by getting a few valuable insurance points off junior kicker Diego Gutierrez’s 35-yard field goal to make it 38-28. Gutierrez finished a perfect night with six extra points and the field goal.

Navasota didn’t show any quit as senior kick returner Treyvon McGinty took the following kickoff 57 yards to the El Campo 23. Three plays later, Minor connected with junior tight end Kaddon Hubbard on a 9-yard touchdown pass to bring the Rattlers within three with 3:12 left.

Unfortunately for Navasota, the defense couldn’t get a stop, and Owens capped his big night with a 31-yard touchdown run on third-and-2 to finish the scoring. Worrell then brought out more trickery as the Ricebirds went for another onside kick, recovering this one too.

“[El Campo] is as good as anybody in our district, and that’s the thing with our district: There’s no cupcakes,” Dacus said. “All the games are going to be like this every week, and we have to do a good job of moving forward and putting the previous game behind us.”

The Rattlers will continue district play at Bay City at 7 p.m. next Friday at Memorial Stadium. El Campo has a bye week before taking on the rival Blackcats on Oct. 7 at home.

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