The Orange Leader
WEST ORANGE —
Two of the state’s top programs will get after it Friday night - only one of them will walk away as the Class 3A Region III Division II champions.
The West Orange-Stark Mustangs (13-0) will duke it out with the top-ranked Navasota Rattler (13-0) at 7 p.m. at Humble’s Turner Stadium.
The winner will be just two wins away from a Class 3A Division II state championship while the other absorbs its first loss of the season.
The Ratters have been sitting atop the Class 3A state poll for 11 weeks now while the Mustangs were ranked No. 4 in the state in the final poll.
It should certainly be an excellent matchup, featuring the state’s No. 1 3A “pinball offense” in the Rattlers against the No. 1 3A defense in the form of the Mustangs’ Chain Gang Defense, which has posted a school-record nine shutouts and has allowed just 42 points all season long.
Navasota is coming off a 31-20 victory over La Marque in the regional semifinals while the Mustangs shredded Lorena 28-0.
“This could be a classic,” said Mustang head coach Cornel Thompson. “Both teams are hard-nosed teams that definitely know how to compete. At this point of the year, you’re going to run into some tough ‘cookies.’ Here we are, two 13-0 football teams that have a big goal on their minds. The kids have had excellent practices this week. They’re focused in on what they want to accomplish and they await the challenge.”
The Rattlers have piled up a stunning 613 points for the season, averaging 47.2 yards a game. That includes 319.7 yards passing a game and 152.7 yards on the ground.
The young man that “stirs the drink” for head coach Lee Fedora is definitely quarterback Kadarius Baker, who is closing in on the 4,000-yard passing mark.
He’s completed 218-of-337 passes for 3,874 yards. To top it off, he’s thrown for 50 touchdown passes and has just six interceptions.
Baker has two key receivers, who have both gone over the 1,500-yard mark.
Solomon McGintry has hauled in 75 receptions for 1,545 yards and 19 TDs while Austin Collins has hauled in 74 catches for 1,516 yards and 21 TDs.
In contrast, the Mustang defense, which has allowed only 132.8 yards a game, has giving up just 985 yards in the air all season.
“They’re are certainly explosive, looking at their numbers,” said Thompson. “The Baker kid reminds me a lot of the Central quarterback (Robert Mitchell). He likes to stand back there in the pocket to make things happen. We’ve got to be able to get some pressure on him. He can sling it. He’s accurate with the deep ball and the short-range passes. Both of their receivers can get deep, especially the Collins kid.”
Running back Xavier Creeks leads the Rattler ground game with 759 yards and six TDs on 66 carries.
Derrion Randle has 444 yards and seven TDs on 50 carries and Howard Horn has 371 yards and two TDs on 55 totes.
“You can’t discount their running game,” said Thompson. “They use the pass to open up the run. They do a lot of no-huddle. They are not fast-paced with it but they do like to keep you from adding personnel. They are definitely a big-play team and we’ve got to limit those opportunities, which we’ve been pretty darn good at throughout the season.”
Baker, who likes to spend as long a time as possible in the pocket, has just nine yards on 83 rushes but does have four TDs. The Mustangs have only yielded 57 yards a game on the ground.
No doubt, Fedora loves running a high-octane offense. Fedora is the brother of University of North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora.
Defensively, the Rattlers have been stout in their own right, posting five shutouts of their own and have held nine opponents under double digits in allowing just 93 points for the year.
“I know a lot of talk is about their offense, but their old defense is pretty dang good,” said Thompson. “They’re only allowing about 172 yards a game and have five shutouts. We think we’ve got a few wrinkles we can put in to move the ball. Offensively, we’ve been very efficient in the playoffs. Our offensive line continues to get better, which you’ve got to have that at this stage of the game. Jimmy (Salter) has been a cool customer back there and we’ve been moving the chains. That’s what we want to do.”
The Mustangs, meanwhile, have put up 447 points of their own offensively, sparked by senior quarterback Salter.
Salter has completed 120-of-206 passes for 1,632 yards and 20 TDs and has just two picks. He also has 425 yards rushing and 11 TDs.
Senior standout receiver J’Marcus Rhodes has hauled down 47 receptions for 794 yards and 13 TDs.
WO-S tailback Abear Simien has been running powerful in the postseason and now has 755 yards and six TDs on 121 carries.
At this time of the year, you just want to keep posting a ‘W’ in the win column, no matter how, to get to that next level.
“I told the kids the other day that only eight teams in our class are playing right now it December, that’s quite an accomplishment and we’re super-proud of them,” said Thompson. “There’s no doubt, Friday is going to be a challenge, they all are now. I know that the Navasota team is feeling the same way. It could boil down to the mental part of the game. It could come down to the fourth quarter and you don’t want to be that team that makes that one tough mistake. I’ve seen a lot over the years and believe me, I’ve been on both sides of the fence on that deal.”
Three other 3A regional finals are set for the week.
The WO-S-Navasota winner will face either Port Isabel (10-3) or Bellville (10-3) in the state semifinals. Those two will play at 6 p.m. Saturday at Corpus Christi’s Cabannis Field in the Region IV Final.
In Region I, Graham (12-1) will take on Gatesville (13-0) Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Stephenville. In Region II, it will be Gilmer (12-1) vs. Henderson (9-4) Friday at 7 p.m. in Longview.
Tickets will be on sale at the WO-S Athletic Office Thursday and Friday. They will be on sale Thursday from 9 a.m.-noon and 1 p.m.-3 p.m. and on Friday from 9 a.m.-noon. Ticket prices are $8 for adults and $6 for students.