Stomachs will churn, hands will tremble, and sleep will be lost.
The season opener is finally here.
The Navarro Panthers will try to overcome first game jitters when they travel to Gonzales on Friday night to meet the Apaches as each team gets its 2019 season underway.
Navarro will hope to get off to a better start then they did in last year’s season opener, which was also against Gonzales. In that game, the Apaches built a 28-6 lead in the second quarter and held a 28-12 lead at the half.
But the Panthers will hope for a similar ending. They roared back in the second half of that game for a 55-35 rout of Gonzales. That is the biggest deficit any Navarro team has overcome for a victory.
As exciting a win as that was for the guys from Geronimo, it must have been equally frustrating for the Apaches.
The Panthers have also won all five meetings with Gonzales. All those games have been played since 2014.
Navarro head coach Rod Blount believes all that will give his opponents an extra chip on their shoulders when they welcome his Panthers to town.
“Being up like that and losing the lead had to
really hurt,” he said. “They’ll remember that and be fired up for us. They’ll be ready to play and try to start the season off right.
“We’ve got to come out ready for them. And we can’t have the mistakes early on that we did last year.”
Gonzales has a new head coach, Mike Waldie, this year, but they will still run their offense from the spread formation.
Senior Heath Henke will start at quarterback. He saw limited time behind the center last year but did start at safety. Blount said he “throws a good ball” and runs well so he expects to see a lot of quarterback rushes on Friday.
Running back Dillen Ramos is also a big part of their attack, according to Blount.
“He is a hard runner and has good vision,” Blount said. “We saw him break multiple tackles in their scrimmages.”
Blount said the Apaches have two big and athletic receivers who “do a good job going up and getting the ball.”
But he said the strength of their offense is their interior three (the guards and center) on the line.
“They’re all returners from last year,” he said. “They lock on people and drive them back.”
Defensively, their standout is end Lion Williamson. He was all-state last year when he tallied 149 tackles and 14 sacks. ”
Blount was also impressed with the Apaches’ defensive backs and the unit overall.
“They have a lot of team speed and some really good athletes,” he said.
Blount said it will present a challenge facing a new coaching staff with which he is not familiar. He said he expects some surprises on both sides of the ball and will have to make a lot of adjustments during the game.
He said his own team is still a “work in progress but we are where we need to be” coming into their first game.
“We try to get our kids to go out and play like it’s a good practice on Friday night,” Blount said. “They need to keep their heads, relax, and go out there and have fun.”
Blount and his staff have been trying to decide on a starting quarterback this summer. He said he will make the decision this week between junior Sam Muniga and sophomore Nick Billings, but expects both to see action leading the Panthers’ offense on Friday.
The Panthers will be seeking their seventh straight win in a season opener and their tenth in the last eleven years. Their last loss in a season opener came against Antonian (35-21) in 2012.
Kickoff at Apache Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m.
If you like to watch the battle in the trenches, this game may be for you. With many of the same athletes now on their line, Gonzales finished second in the state for Class 4A this summer in the State Lineman Challenge. Navarro finished fourth.
The Panthers will debut new uniforms this year, going back to the traditional purple and gold and away from the black they have worn for about 20 years.
Gonzales’ new coach Mike Waldie is not facing the Panthers for the first time. He led Luling against Navarro in 2010 and 2011, with the Panthers winning both contests. He left Luling after 2011 and was the offensive coordinator at Pearland last season.
Scot Kibbe is a long-time contributor the Seguin Gazette. He has covered Panther football for 28 years.