ARLINGTON — Navasota’s Solomon McGinty carried injured teammate Xavier Creeks’ No. 8 jersey to the pregame coin toss, then paraded up and down the sidelines with it.
Even though Creeks was a major contributor to the journey to state, the Rattlers had more than enough bite to keep rolling.
Navasota, in this round for the first time in 24 years, used a fierce pass rush and a powerful offense to score three times in the second quarter and take control. The top-ranked Rattlers then cruised the rest of the way to crush No. 10 Gilmer, 39-3, in the Class 3A Division II state final on Friday at Cowboys Stadium.
Before an announced crowd of 17,582, Navasota (16-0) put the finishing touches on a perfect season and the program’s first state title with yet another dominant performance. The Rattlers, who outscored their district opponents a combined 191-0, allowed only one opponent to get within 12 points this season (LaMarque, 31-20).
Creeks, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season, suffered a broken leg in an early morning car accident Thursday. His jersey had already been stored in the team bus, meaning it made the trip north without him.
No doubt, the Rattlers had him on their minds.
“You get one shot to go to state,” said Rattlers receiver Austin Collins, the Offensive Player of the Game. “His heart was at the game. Every touchdown, every yard I ran was for (Xavier) and I love him so much.”
Navasota’s defensive front of Jordan Wells, Jaylyin Minor and Jake Bauer made life miserable for Gilmer (13-2) and quarterback Tanner Barr, sacking him multiple times and chasing him around Cowboys Stadium all night. On one sack, Wells got to the junior first and then Bauer finished the job in horizontally acrobatic fashion.
The duo helped Navasota outgain the Buckeyes 405-162 in total yards and set the stage for the offense of Rattlers quarterback Kadarius Baker, who entered the game with more than 4,000 yards and 53 touchdowns passing on the season. Baker finished the night 10 of 15 for 160 yards and two touchdowns, throwing both in the first half while rushing for another to help the Rattlers take a 26-3 lead into the break.
Collins accounted for three touchdowns on the night, posting 52 and 4-yard scoring receptions and an 82-yard TD run. The senior’s performance was another case of the Rattlers taking things one game at a time.
“I told the kids this morning and told them before the game, it’s not about the total factor,” said Navasota coach Lee Fedora, the brother of North Carolina coach Larry Fedora. “It’s like we’ve said all year long, it’s about one at a time. Tonight our only goal was to be 6-0. That’s 6-0 in the playoffs. I told them that if we can win this, it also means we’re state champs.”
Gilmer, which was vying for its third state title in eight years, was outscored 39-0 after kicking a field goal to go ahead in the first quarter. Barr finished the night 5 of 23 for 68 yards while getting sacked four times, plus getting dropped behind the line of scrimmage multiple other times.
Wells, a monstrous defensive lineman, led the Rattler stop unit with 10 tackles and six tackles for losses.
“We knew we had to keep on fighting,” Barr said. “We’re not going to stop until the fourth quarter clock has three zeros on it. We kept encouraging our teammates and kept on fighting.”
Said coach Jeff Traylor, who’s guided the Buckeyes to four state finals during his tenure: “They had a great offense, too. ...This game we really felt like they were good in all three phases of the game.”
Gilmer reached the scoreboard first in the opening quarter, driving the ball downfield in nine plays and perfectly mixing the passing with the running games. Pablo Oliveras capped the drive with a 29-yard field to give the Buckeyes a 3-0 lead with 4:33 on the clock, but the kick summed up the Buckeyes’ scoring in the half.
The rest of the half belonged to the Rattlers, who put their fangs on full display.
On the ensuing drive following the field goal, Baker found Collins (who entered the night with a team-high 88 receptions) on an inside screen and the senior receiver took the ball the rest of the way for a 52-yard TD with 2:46 left in the first. Then on their first drive of the second, the Rattlers got the ball at the Buckeye 35 following a short punt, a situation that Baker capitalized on from 2 yards out to make it a 13-3 game.
Navasota’s running game took up the slack of Creeks’ absence the rest of the half, evidenced by Derrion Randle taking an inside handoff 52 yards right up Gilmer’s defense for a TD and senior Howard Horn setting up the half’s final score with runs of 37 and 14 yards.
Navasota didn’t even think about letting up in the third quarter, during which the Buckeyes drove to the Rattler 2 before fumbling the ball out of the end zone and coming away from the drive without scoring. And five plays later with Baker briefly on the sideline following a hard collision, Collins lined up at quarterback, faked a handoff and sprinted upfield 81 yards for a score and a 33-3 lead with 4:01 left.
The rest was history, and the Rattlers won a state title for Creeks.
“When I got the call, it was hard and we had to leave that morning, too,” McGinty said. “We got our tears out right away and like coach Fedora told us, he’s not dead. We took that into this game and took care of business.”
Class 3A Division II State Final
No. 1 Navasota 39, No. 10 Gilmer 3
At Cowboys Stadium, Arlington
Navasota 7 19 7 6 — 39
Gilmer 3 0 0 0 — 3
GIL — FG Pablo Olivares 29, 4:33
NAV — Austin Collins 52 pass from Kadarius Baker (Michael Martinez kick), 2:46
NAV — Baker 2 run (kick blocked), 11:55
NAV — Derrion Randle 52 run (Martinez kick), 6:42
NAV — Collins 4 pass from Baker (kick failed), 3:35
NAV — Collins 81 run (Martinez kick), 4:01
NAV — Howard Horn 13 run (kick failed), 4:39
First Downs 15 12
Rushes-Yards 31-245 41-83
Passing Yards 160 79
Comp.-At.-Int. 10-16-0 6-26-1
Penalties-Yards 3-20 3-30
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-2
Punts-Avg. 3-34.3 6-39.0
RUSHING — Navasota, Austin Collins 4-96, Derrion Randall 12-75, Howard Horn 12-68, Kadarius Baker 3-6. Gilmer, Tanner Barr 16-21, DeVondric 2-20, Jamel Jackson 7-18, Kris Boyd 9-12, Josh Walker 5-10, Chase Tate 2-0.
PASSING — Navasota, Baker 10-16-0—160, Collins 0-1-0—0. Gilmer, Barr 5-23-1—68, Chase Tate 1-3-0—11.
RECEIVING — Navasota, Solomon McGinty 5-65, Collins 3-64, Howard Horn 1-24, Terrance Creeks 1-7. Gilmer, Jaidon Parrish 4-56, Boyd 1-21, Washington 1-2.