Off tackle

The Panthers’ Jean Sims looks for running room on the outside during Navarro’s 17-16 win over Gonzales. Marion comes to Navarro for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff tonight.

Cross county rivals will tangle for the 30th time on tonight when the Navarro Panthers (1-0) host the Marion Bulldogs (1-0) in a non-district contest.

The series between the Guadalupe County neighbors began in 1972 with the teams playing in just over half the seasons since then.

Dominance of the series can be divided by the centuries. In the teams’ 20 meetings during the 20th century, the Bulldogs dominated with 18 wins. In this century, the Panthers have won all nine meetings.

Navarro outscored Marion last year in a wildly entertaining 50-36 shootout. Both teams went on to have big years with the Bulldogs winning their district and the rest of their regular season games and the Panthers advancing to the state quarterfinals.

Here is what fans who come out to see the game at Erwin-Lee Field can expect to see:

Marion offense

Senior Zach Goodwin moved from receiver to quarterback after last season. In his first career start last week at Luling, Goodwin hit 11 of 22 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown as the Bulldogs rolled to a victory.

His head coach, Ryne Miller, said Goodwin has done “a phenomenal job” making the transition.

Navarro head coach Rod Blount is also impressed with Goodwin.

“He is a special athlete,” Blount said of the Bulldogs’ quarterback. “He throws a very catchable ball and can hit targets on the run and hurt you with his feet as well.” 

Blount said the skill position players on Marion’s offense were as good as the Panthers have seen this year. Receivers Samuel Montoya and Jacob Devora both had big catches for Marion last week while the running back was the main rushing threat with 55 yards and one touchdown on ten carries.

The Panthers’ defense contained Gonzales for most of their 17-16 win last week. Linebacker Gabe Means should return to action after missing last week’s game.

Navarro has given up a lot of points to the Bulldogs’ wide-open passing game in their last two meetings. This year, they have a young secondary that looked vulnerable at times last week and in their scrimmages. They also failed to mount much of a pass rush against Gonzales.

Blount said the key for his defense against Marion will be to “limit their big plays.”

Navarro offense

Navarro’s Slot-T offense has been positively lethal to the Bulldogs. In their last five meetings, the Panthers are averaging 53 points per game. While Marion held Luling without a single completion, Navarro managed to win last week with their only pass attempt getting intercepted. The Panthers tend to do their damage on the ground and averaged just four pass attempts per game last season.

Miller is encouraged that his team has faced triple option teams similar to Navarro’s style in both scrimmages and against Luling, who they limited to 146 yards of offense last week. 

Blount said he believes the strength of their defense is their three linebackers, including preseason District 15-3A-I Defensive MVP favorite Cade Baumann. He said they and their line have done a good job getting into their opponents’ offensive backfield.

Navarro’s offense in 2019, however, may be special even by that program’s high standards. Johnny Alegria and Euler Deleon each surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark last year, the first returning 1,000-yard tandem to play at Navarro. Against Gonzales, Alegria carried for 190 yards and a touchdown while Deleon went for 135 yards and a touchdown.

Alegria is also a threat out of the backfield when the Panthers do pass. Deleon is the power back but also shows good speed in the open field.

Miller stresses discipline as vital for his defense as they try to contain Navarro’s attack.

“Their coaches do a great job getting those guys ready and making sure they know their assignments,” he said. “We have to be just as disciplined and trust our keys and get after them.”

Other factors

In their nine losses to Navarro on this current streak, the Bulldogs have held the lead for just nine minutes—all in the first half of their 2013 meeting. Last year, they fell behind the Panthers 22-6 before trading touchdowns for the rest of the night.

“You have to start fast against Navarro,” Miller said. “With their style offense, they do a great job of milking that clock when they have the lead. We gave up things that put us behind, like a defensive touchdown last year.

“We need to take advantage of opportunities to score and take care of the football. And our defense has got to do a good job of getting off the field.”

In addition, each coach felt his offense made too many mistakes last week. That is not surprising as each team is young, especially on the offensive line, and it was the season opener. Eliminating or at least reducing those mistakes will be crucial for both teams.

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. tonight.

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