WHARTON — Navasota quarterback Ja’mar Jessie accounted for three touchdowns in the first half, but the Rattlers lost their leader to a shoulder injury just before halftime, forcing the remaining players to pick up the slack.
They did just that.
Ja’marion Frear’s 46-yard touchdown run with 1 minute, 40 seconds left helped the Rattlers survive a back-and-forth fourth quarter battle, and they held on for a 39-34 victory over Rockport-Fulton in the Class 4A Division II area playoffs Friday at Joseph Memorial Stadium.
“That was about as much adversity as we’ve had to overcome all year,” Navasota head coach Casey Dacus said. “We have guys beat up and banged up. We had so many guys step forward and make plays, and I couldn’t be more proud of them. They’re just a bunch of battlers. It’s a bunch of guys competing their tails off, and they’ve earned it.”
Jessie went down late in the second quarter after being hit on a quick 6-yard run on first down. Junior backup quarterback Drew Gonzales took over for the rest of the game.
Navasota running back Darius Randle also played sparingly after spraining his ankle in the bi-district playoffs last week. He finished with just 2 yards on three carries.
Fighting through injuries, Navasota (8-3) went into the fourth quarter leading 27-21 on the strength of Jessie’s first-half work. The teams then traded leads four times in the period with Frear capping a huge night with the final score on a fourth-and-1 run. Filling in for Randle, Frear ran for 223 yards on 22 carries.
“The time wasn’t the [problem], it was running out of bodies,” Dacus said of the fourth quarter. “When you look at our sideline and the guys that we had lost early in the first half, I’m so proud of the guys who came in the second half and played, because they haven’t been in that position before. That’s a big program win for us right there.”
After Frear came up short on the two-point conversion, Rockport-Fulton’s John Chupe, who accounted for two touchdowns, ran for 32 yards on three carries to get the Pirates to Navasota’s 38-yard line. But the Rattlers’ defense stiffened and allowed only 2 yards on the next four plays to end the game.
“[Rockport-Fulton] is really balanced out of the slot-T,” Dacus said. “Usually when you play slot-T teams, they are really good at running the ball and struggle to throw it. I thought today our defense just really competed. We talk all the time about getting to the next play, the next play, the next play, and that’s what we did tonight. It wasn’t always pretty, but the job got done in the end.”
Following a quiet and scoreless third quarter, Rockport-Fulton (6-5) scored on a 12 play, 71-yard drive to take its first lead of the fourth quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by Ryan Wells. Navasota answered almost a minute later when Gonzales found Keshon Wilson for a 48-yard touchdown pass to take back the lead at 33-28.
Quarterback Ace Seibert gave Rockport-Fulton the lead again on a 1-yard touchdown run with 3:40 left, but the Pirates missed the two-point conversion due to miscommunication between Seibert and running back Devan Phillips.
That set up Frear’s heroic run.
Navasota scored fast and early in the first half, scoring on its first three possessions for a 20-7 lead. Jessie found space up the left sideline and ran 22 yards for the Rattlers’ first score. Rockport-Fulton answered with a 57-yard TD run but Chupe, but Jessie quickly found Wilson on a 56-yard touchdown pass before running in another 13-yard touchdown to start the second quarter.
The Rattlers’ Logan Arrington found a big hole up the middle and scored on a 24-yard run later in the second quarter, but the Pirates stayed in the game with 6-yard TD run by Wells and a 4-yard TD run from Chupe, getting to within 27-21 at halftime.
Navasota will face Navarro (10-2) in the regional playoffs at a time and site to be determined. Dacus said with the players out of school for Thanksgiving break, preparation for the next round is even more crucial.
“It’s going to be different, because we’re going to have to manage it,” Dacus said. “There’s no school, no routine, so we’re out of routine. We’re going to have to do a good job of making adjustments and we will. Our kids will do fine with that. It’s just exciting to get to this third round.”