FREDERICKSBURG — Hoping to pick themselves up and dust themselves off, the Navarro Panthers (5-2, 1-1) will travel to Fredericksburg (4-3, 0-2) this Friday for an important District 27-3A meeting with the Battlin’ Billies.
The Panthers are coming off a crushing 21-20 loss to defending state champion Wimberley last week. It was a game in which Navarro seemed to have the edge everywhere but the scoreboard, coming up agonizingly short of a landmark win for the program.
But a glance at the district race shows the Panthers still have plenty at stake. If they win out, they are assured a playoff spot and at least a share of the district title should Wimberley falter.
On the other hand, even one more loss and they will need help, possibly including a favorable tiebreaker.
Navarro head coach Les Goad has been stressing that message with his team this week.
“The game last week was painful, especially to our seniors, because of how close we were,” he said. “But we’ve talked about being able to bounce back and not let that loss affect how we play in the future.
“We still feel like we can be an elite team and we have three weeks to prove it.”
Fortunately, Goad’s teams have been extremely successful at recovering from losses. The Panthers have not lost consecutive games in the same season since 2007.
They have also had considerable success against Fredericksburg. Navarro has defeated the Billies in the past two seasons by a combined score of 87-14.
By any measure, however, Fredericksburg is much improved over previous years. With four wins, it has already doubled its win total from a year ago. And while the Billies have dropped their first two district contests — to expected playoff contenders Canyon Lake (27-17) and Boerne (31-14) — Goad said their development was evident in both games.
“We can see that they’re playing with more confidence than before,” said Goad, who won his 100th game in Fredericksburg last year. “They believe in what they’re doing and have just been slowed by turnovers.”
Goad said the Billies use the option more than any team the Panthers have faced and will also employ the wildcat offense at times. Their attack is led by sophomore quarterback Kyle Grona, whom Goad says “is very dangerous and does not play like a sophomore.” Grona has thrown for 892 yards and five touchdowns this year and has rushed for 321 yards and another four touchdowns.
The Billies’ leading rusher is running back Paco Martinez, who has run for 478 yards and six touchdowns. Their leading receivers are Kim Ross-Baethge (14-302, 3 TDs), Matthew McManigle (12-298, 2 TDs) and running back Joaquin Rivera (19-196).
Defensively, Goad says Fredericksburg runs a split formation similar to Wimberley’s. He says the Billies have good size up front and defensive ends Clayton Braden and Jacob Dittmar are “solid.” Defensive back Brayden Beard, who was the district’s Newcomer of the Year in 2011, is another of their standouts.
For the Billies, another district loss ends any reasonable chance they have of qualifying for the playoffs. Goad believes that is an added peril for his team.
“There is no doubt they will give us their best game because they are desperate for a win,” he said. “This is going to be a real battle for us on the road.
“The beginning of the game will be pivotal. We can’t let them build their confidence early.”
Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.
PANTHER NOTES: With three games left, two Panther running backs are on pace to rush for more than 1,000 yards before the regular season ends. Seniors L.J. Anderson and Zane Conlin have rushed for 761 and 732 yards, respectively. It would mark the first time in school history that two backs were able to surpass the 1,000 yard mark during the regular season.
Field goals have not exactly played a big role in Navarro’s games this year. In a bit of an anomaly, the Panthers have not attempted a single field goal this year and none of their opponents have attempted one against them.
Goad reports the Panthers enter this game healthy. The only exception is Hayden Miracle, whose status Goad says is uncertain because of a shoulder injury. Miracle is a defensive back, running back and Navarro’s main punt returner.