#1 Navarro vs. #9 Blinn

CORISCANA, Texas - The stakes could not be higher and the potential revenge more sweet when Blinn faces off with Navarro for the second time in three weeks on Saturday at 3 p.m. in the Southwest Junior College Football Conference postseason championship.

Navarro enters the title game with a 10-0 mark, including a 24-21 victory over Blinn in Brenham in the regular season finale. A victory would send the Bulldogs, ranked No. 1 in both the NJCAA/JCFootball.com and J.C. Grid-Wire polls, into the bowl season with an opportunity to win their second national championship.

Blinn, however, likely feels it has the momentum after rallying from a 21-0 deficit in the second half to nearly clip the Bulldogs in their last meeting. Blinn (8-2) continued its second-half magic last week when it defeated Kilgore in the semifinals, 52-42, after trailing by three points midway in the third period.

Navarro reached the conference championship game with a 31-20 victory over Trinity Valley, despite committing seven turnovers.
A year ago, Navarro topped Blinn in back-to-back games in Corsicana and owns a three-game winning streak over the Buccaneers.
Can Navarro defeat Blinn twice in the same year for the second season in a row?

If Navarro can control the ball with its massive offensive line and a solid running attack, it can keep the red-hot Terrance Cain off the field. Navarro failed to get much pressure on Cain two weeks ago, allowing the sophomore to complete 22 of 29 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns. The Bucs employed a short passing game in the second half, allowing their talented receivers to work one-on-one against Navarro defenders. That 21-point lead evaporated quickly, and Navarro needed a fourth quarter field goal by Gabriel Elizando and a late interception by linebacker Justin Clark to preserve the victory.

Cain is certainly not the same quarterback that was intercepted five times in the Bucs' first-round loss to Navarro in 2007.

Navarro defeated Blinn 42-18 in the 2007 season finale, holding Blinn's offense to one touchdown. Blinn was back in Corsicana the following week in the first round of the SWJCFC playoffs and Navarro smacked the Bucs again, 28-9, as Cain suffered his worst game of the season.

Now the redshirt sophomore is on a roll. In the last six quarters, Cain has passed for seven touchdowns. Cain has completed 71.9 percent of his passes for 2,667 yards and 25 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. Cain has a blistering 183.7 pass efficiency rating (NCAA), which compares favorably to the NCAA Division I all-time mark of 186.0 set in 1996 by Hawaii's Colt Brennan.

Cain has perhaps the best collection of receivers in the country. Justin Jordan, who led the conference in points (96) has nabbed a league-best 47 catches and seven touchdowns, while also scoring six times on the ground. Travis Cobb is right behind his teammate with 32 catches and Dexter Ransom is averaging 20.7 yards on his 31 receptions. Ransom has also caught a conference-high nine touchdowns.

Navarro counters with a young but very effective secondary. When preseason All-American safety and Texas Tech commit Ryan Clark missed four games mid-year, redshirt freshman Trevor Drayton stepped in and promptly intercepted a team-high five passes. Fellow safety Kory Smith has three picks and freshman Anthony Brown has two interceptions, including one for a touchdown.

While Cain's passing nets most of the acclaim, the Blinn running game is also outstanding. The duo of Reggie Brown (1,235 yards, 8 TDs) and Mike Hayes (687 yards, 6 TDs) has also combined for 31 receptions and three scores.

When not terrorizing secondaries, Cobb has proved to be a dynamic kick returner. Cobb has returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown this season and is averaging 31.4 yards per return. Cobb is also averaging 10.7 yards per punt return and scored on a 52-yarder last week in Blinn's 52-42 semifinal win over Kilgore. Jordan also returned a punt for a score against Kilgore and is averaging a dizzying 19.3 yards per return.

The Buccaneer special teams also benefits from outstanding kicker Brad Hicks (77 points) and punter Mark Sprague (41.9 yards per attempt).

Navarro has been the most consistent running teams in the nation this season, averaging 277 yards per game, including a five-game stretch of 300-yard games. Sophomore William Powell is the leading ground gainer (853 yards), but the Bulldogs will shuffle in Vetric Sam (454 yards), Justin Sturns (558 yards) and Derrick Hall (200 yards, including a 25-yard scoring run in Game 1). Powell, Sam and Sturns all have eight touchdown runs.

Navarro received a boost at quarterback this week with the return of freshman Milton Howell, who sat out last week with a shoulder injury sustained against Blinn. Howell is completing 57.1 percent of his passes for 586 yards and three touchdowns. Backup quarterback Andre Bevil (Lamar commit) is the more accomplished passer, though his three touchdown passes to Rodney Bradley last week against Trinity Valley was overshadowed by four interceptions, doubling Navarro's team total for the year.

Navarro's offensive line, which boasts Oklahoma State commitment Anthony Morgan (guard) and Houston commitment Roy Watts (tackle) on the right side and LSU transfer Zhamal Thomas at left tackle.

That veteran and talented Navarro offensive line had its troubles containing Blinn's fleet pass rush led by defensive ends Jared Price (16 sacks) and Travis Stephens (5.5 sacks), who combined for four sacks in the first matchup.

Blinn's defense, which allowed a scant 36.5 yards per game, benefits from a pair of aggressive safeties in Byron Landor (90 tackles) and Justin Goodman (60

SWJCFC Championship Game

RECORDS: No.1-ranked Navarro (10-0) vs. No. 6 Blinn (8-2) in JCFooball/NJCAA Poll. Navarro is No. 1 and Blinn No. 9 in JC Gridwire Poll.

RECENT MATCHUP: Navarro defeated Blinn 24-21 to end 2008 regular season. Navarro led 21-0 before the Bucs made a charge with 21 points in the final 18 minutes. The Bucs were driving with less than 2 minutes remaining when QB Terrance Cain was intercepted by Navarro LB Justin Clark when he attempted a middle screen pass.


PLAYERS TO WATCH: Blinn: RB Reggie Dotson, RB Michael Hayes, QB Terrance Cain, WR Justin Jordan, WR Travis Cobb, WR Dexter Ransom, TE Prizell Brown, T Marquise Franklin, K Brad Hicks, DB Terrence Henry, DB Terrence Sweeny, DE Travis Stephens, LB C.J. Parish, LB Vernon Brooks, DB Byron Landor, DE Jared Price, S Justin Goodman, S Byron Landor. Navarro: OL Roy Watts, OL Anthony Morgan, DE Brandon Joiner, OL Zhamal Thomas, FS Ryan Clark, SS Kory Smith, DE Darby Jackson, CB Anthony Brown, RB Justin Sturns, RB Vetric Sam, SS Trevor Drayton, DT Ray Kibbles, WR Rodney Bradley, WR Andre Banks, WR Kevin Diles, QB Milton Howell, RB William Powell.

KEY STATISTIC: Blinn QB Cain has a 183.7 pass efficiency rating this season, having completed 71.9 percent of his passes for more than 2,600 yards and 25 TDs. By comparison, the all-time Division I pass efficiency leader is Hawaii’s Colt Brennan, who had a 186.0 mark in 1996.
UPDATE: The only way to stop Blinn this season has been to limit its offensive opportunities and put pressure on QB Cain. The sophomore from North Shore has completed 69.8 percent of his passes for 2,667 yards, averaging a conference-high 14.3 yards per completion. Cain has 25 TD passes and has been intercepted 8 times . . . WR Jordan is dangerous catching and running the ball. Jordan leads the conference with 47 catches and 7 TDs. He has also scored 6 times rushing and on 1 return. He leads the conference in scoring with 96 points . . .

Navarro’s secondary will have to be wary not just with Jordan but also Cobb (32 catches) and Ransom (31 catches, 9 TDs) . . . Navarro’s secondary has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 48 percent of their passes and 4.9 yards per attempt. In the last two weeks, the Navarro pass defense has 551 yards through the air and 61.1 percent pass completion . . . Blinn will challenge the Navarro special teams this week. Cobb and Jordan both scored on punt returns against Kilgore last week. Cobb is averaging 10.9 on punt returns and 31.4 yards on kickoffs. Terrance Sweeny is right behind Cobb with 30.5 yards . . . Blinn also has a solid 1-2 punch at running back. RB Brown has gained a conference-high 1,235 yards and scored 8 times of the ground. Brown also has 14 catches and a TD receiving. Brown will be spelled by Mike Hayes, who has 17 catches and 2 TDs to go with his 687 yards and 6 TDs on the ground. Hayes’ total is fifth-best in the conference . . .

The Blinn safety duo of Landor and Goodman have 90 and 60 tackles, respectively . . . DE Price led the conference in sacks with 16 to go with 33 tackles . . . Blinn is superlative in the kick game with punter Mike Sprague (41.9 yards per punt) and Brad Hicks (second in SWJCFC in scoring with 77 points) . . . Blinn averages 474 yards a game allowed a conference low 36.5 yards per game rushing and 195 yards overall . . . Navarro averages 277.1 yards on the ground per game and is second to Blinn in total offense (425 yards) and defense (283.3 yards) . . . The Bulldogs will benefit by the return of QB Howell, who missed the semifinal win with a separated shoulder. He has thrown well this week in practice and will likely start. Howell has the most rushing yards of any quarterback in the SWJCFC with 436 yards, including a 92-yard TD run. Howell has completed 57 percent of his passes for 586 yards and 3 TDs . . . Navarro has three backs with more than 450 yards, paced by RB Powell (853 yards, 7.2 average, 8 TDs). RB Sturns has 558 yards and 8 TDs, and RB Sam is averaging 6.3 yards per carry and has 8 scores . . .

WR Bradley is the leading receiver (25 catches, 19.6-yard average, 7 TDs), followed closely by possession receiver Marcus Jackson (22 catches, 9.8 average). Bradley has four TD receptions in the last two games, including 3 in the semifinal victory . . . LT Zhamal Thomas is back after missing one game when he sustained a deep thigh bruise against Blinn in the regular-season finale . . . LB Graham is the Bulldogs’ leading tackler with 79 to go with 5.5 sacks . . . DE Brandon Joiner has 9 sacks and 54 tackles and will play this week after sitting out the TVCC game with a strained hamstring . . . S Trevor Drayton leads the team with 5 interceptions . . . If Navarro is the slow Blinn’s potent passing attack, it will have to form a stiff pass rush. After posting 40.5 sacks in the first 8 games, Navarro has only 2 the last 2 contests . . .

Last season, Navarro hosted Blinn to end the regular season and then in the first round of the playoffs . . . Navarro defeated Blinn 42-18 in the 2007 season finale, holding Blinn’s offense to one TD. In Game 2, Cain was picked off 5 times in a 28-9 loss. Navarro’s biggest problem in those two games was a combined 20 penalties for 174 yards.

- Rob Ludwig

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