On the ground

The Navarro ball carrier gets brought down after a gain Thursday night in the Panthers scrimmage against Devine at Erwin Lee Field.

On their way to the state quarterfinals last season, the Navarro Panthers tended to struggle at the start of games only to regroup, shift the momentum and take a contest over.

On Friday, facing the Devine Warhorses in their last preseason scrimmage of 2019, the Panthers showed the same ability to overcome a bad start and finish strong.

Navarro stumbled out of the gate as the offense barely moved the ball on their first ten-play series. On Devine’s first possession, they scored twice. The first was set up by a 62-yard run and the second came on a 70-yard option run by the quarterback.

The Warhorses dominated up front on both of those series and played with more aggressiveness and intensity. They seemed to have extra motivation as they were facing the team that has eliminated them from the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.

Navarro head coach Rod Blount said he was not surprised that Devine started the night like they did.

“We knew they were going to come out fired up,” he said. “They’re a well-disciplined and very physical team. They got after us early and we didn’t execute well.”

The Panthers finally got on the board on the last play of their second team’s offensive series. Mark Wozniak, one of three players competing for Navarro’s starting quarterback job, led an impressive drive down the field before scoring on a sneak from one yard out.

Running back Euler Deleon later shook off defenders and got a key downfield block from quarterback Sam Muniga for a 54-yard touchdown. Another score was added on a 70-yard scamper by running back Kyle Dietert.

Devine added two more touchdowns to their total. At the end of the regular scrimmage (four offensive series of ten plays for each team) Devine had four touchdowns to Navarro’s three.

But the Panthers were settling down and gaining confidence. That would become more obvious when the teams played a live quarter (one quarter played with a clock and under more game-like conditions) to conclude the evening.

Navarro would win that portion by a 20-0 score despite running just six plays to Devine’s 21.

Each of Navarro’s three scores in that period came on a series of just two plays.

The first touchdown was the result of Deleon barreling his way to the end zone on a 26-yard run.

The second came when Muniga connected with receiver Myles McCord, who had blown past his coverage, for a 57-yard touchdown pass.

Johnny Alegria, the Panthers’ leading rusher in 2018, closed the scoring with a 36-yard run.

Meanwhile, Navarro’s defense clamped down. They held the Warhorses to just three first downs in the live quarter, finally getting penetration into the offensive backfield. They also forced a turnover when defensive end Brian Holmes jumped on a Devine fumble.

The way they played late understandably made Blount feel more positive about his team’s performance.

“They stayed calm, did not react to what came before, and played our Panther football,” he said. “They all got on the same page and the offense and defense did a great job.”

It was an especially long night thanks to a high number of penalties—at least 16 on the two teams combined. Blount referred to the flags as “stuff we have to clean up” but it seemed the officials may have been struggling with some of the new rule changes regarding blocking and hitting.

The Panthers now prepare to meet the Gonzales Apaches in the season opener for both teams. Kickoff will be Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Apache Field.

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