CORPUS CHRISTI–The Navarro Panthers did everything they could to beat the Port Isabel Tarpons, but the never quit mentality of the Tarpons wouldn’t allow them to lose and they had a drive for the ages that helped lead them to victory.
The Panthers dominated on the ground, running for nearly 400 yards. They ran up the middle, sweeps and had their way for the most part against Tarpons. They didn’t punted once in the game.
Port Isabel fell behind early and were behind 13-0 after Navarro scored on two convincing drives in the first quarter with Evan DeLeon punching it both times. The Tarpons were on the ropes, but came back with a 55 yard run by Javier Vela.
They trailed 13-7 in the 2nd quarter when the Panthers made one of their few mistakes, muffing a short dribbler kickoff and the Tarpons recovered. PI drove and QB Isaiah Martinez scored to put the Tarpons ahead, 14-13.
Momentum seemed to be shifting to the Tarpons, but Navarro came back and scored on LJ Anderson’s 14 yard run, who rumbled for 260 yards against the Seawall Defense, and they led 19-14 after missing a two-point conversion.
PI received the ball in the second half. They scored on two plays with Martinez running it in, but the Tarpons missed the extra point and led 20-19.
The Seawall defense seemed up to the test and forced a 4th and 4 on the next drive. That’s when Anderson ran for a 68 yard TD, putting Navarro up 25-20.
After that, both teams couldn’t score for the rest of the third quarter. Port Isabel had two three and outs and Navarro turned the ball over on downs at PI’s 32-yard line. In the interim, the Tarpons lost one of the key players, Miguel Ramirez, who played on the offensive and defensive line, when a referee claimed he punched a player on a play.
Panthers had the ball at the start of the 4th quarter. They held the ball for 8 minutes, but Navarro couldn’t knock out the Tarpons and had to settle for a field goal. Anderson kicked a 29-yard field goal, which was the first FG of the year for the Panthers. They were up 28-20, setting up the dramatic finish.
Port Isabel got a bad field position and had to start from the four-yard line. With 4:10 left on the clock, they drove 96 yards. They made three critical third downs and one fourth down play to stay alive.
PI rolled the dice with :07 on the clock on a 2nd and goal from the 5-yard-line and no timeouts left. They handed it off to Vela who ran to the one-yard line, then got a little push from his players and scored with :01 left on the clock. Martinez tossed a two-pont conversion to Vela to tie the game at 28.
In overtime, PI got the ball first. Again, they had to make a fourth down play to keep the drive going and Martinez scored a TD to put them up 35-28.
Navarro made a first down on their overtime drive, then the Seawall defense tightened up and stopped the Panthers on three plays, leaving a 4th and 8. They threw a flare pass to Anderson who dropped it and the game was over.
Tarpons Head Football Coach Monty Stumbaugh credited his team for overcoming the early deficit, losing a key player and then taking part in the drive that will be remembered for years in Port Isabel. He said he was happy for Port Isabel and was happy they would be playing another week.
Panther Head Football Coach Les Goad praised the Tarpons for making the plays they had to make to win the game, He said his team normally does that, but in this game, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Port Isabel moves on to the Region Finals. It’s the deepest run in the playoffs since the 2003 state semifinal run. They will play Bellville (10-3), who won 42-0 over Orange Grove, next Saturday at Cabaniss Field in Corpus Christi at 6 pm.