By Kevin Posival
The Cove Herald
Navarro College couldn't keep its footballs dry in the first half.
Then, when the downpour-dry spell rains finally subsided in the second half, the No. 6 Bulldogs aired them out.
Navarro quarterback Adrian Nelson threw for nearly 300 yards in the second half while the Bulldogs defense shut out No. 12 New Mexico Military Institute, helping the 2010 junior college national champions rally for a 40-24 win in the 11th annual CHAMPS Heart of Texas Bowl at Bulldawg Stadium on a soggy Saturday afternoon.
"Basically, we're a play-action team and in the beginning, it was bad. The weather was bad so we chose to run the ball, but the second half, we came on. The balls were dry for me and I just did what I do best," said HOT Bowl MVP Nelson, who threw for 424 yards and four touchdowns.
"We came out here (the second half), it was kind of dry and we put the ball in the air and they (the receivers) were catching it. That's all."
Navarro (10-2), making its third trip to the HOT Bowl and second since 2009, scored 30 unanswered points after falling behind 24-10 in the second quarter. Nelson completed 24 of 35 passes and had third-quarter scores covering 15, 74 and 49 yards.
The Bulldogs defense had two goal-line stands and recovered a red-zone fumble in the fourth quarter to preserve the second-half shutout.
"Coach has been getting on us all year, teaching us how to finish the game. That's our main focus, finish the game, don't get down on yourself," said Navarro sophomore defensive lineman Bubba Vactor.
NMMI (9-3) scored on three of its first four possessions and Maximillian Dailey-Thompson scored on a kickoff return giving the Broncos a 24-10 lead with 9:19 left in the first half.
Then, Navarro's defense locked down, allowing the Broncos just minus-1 yard the rest of the half and just 162 yards the rest of the game.
"With the wet conditions and such ... I was proud of our kids for responding," Navarro coach Nick Bobeck said. "They kept fighting, they didn't give up. They didn't get down too much because they could have, especially when we scored and kicked off to them and they returned the ball for a touchdown, they could've let down, but they did a really nice job."
Marquez Clark had 14 catches for 188 yards for the Bulldogs and Johnny Haynes ran for 204 yards on 15 carries. Haynes also recovered a Broncos' kickoff fumble that turned the tide for the Bulldogs late in the first half.
Trevor Pinkston's 38-yard field goal cut the NMMI lead to 24-13 with 6:44 following Dailey-Thompson's 86-yard return and Haynes came up with the Broncos' muffed kickoff return to set up Nelson and the Bulldogs' offense at the NMMI 16-yard line. Three plays later, Nelson completed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Gerard Shillow that trimmed the Broncos' lead to 24-19 at halftime. Nelson then threw consecutive touchdowns to Eddie Johnson in the third quarter for a 33-24 lead.
"Anytime that happens, especially against a good team like Navarro, that changes momentum and that's probably the play of the game," Broncos coach Josh Lynn said.
Trent Hardy, a 230-pound defensive lineman, ran for nine yards on a fourth-and-4 fake punt on NMMI's next drive and quarterback David Vega completed back-to-back passes to get the Broncos offense to the Navarro 1-yard line. But Trent Mims dropped Sonny Duran for a two-year loss on a fourth-and-goal play to set up Nelson's 49-yard screen pass touchdown to Tyler Middleton that gave the game's its final score with 52 seconds left in the third quarter.
"The first goal-line stand they had - we talked about it all week, we had to control the offensive and defensive line - there's a good example of where Navarro won," Lyons said.
Later, the Broncos were set up with a first down at the Navarro 18 after a high snap on a Bulldogs punt attempt, but after getting a first down inside the 7, they could get no closer than the 4 and Vega's fourth-down pass to Duran was completed out of bounds behind the end zone.
Vactor then recovered Vega's fumble at the Bulldogs 6 on NMMI's next drive.
"We've got some strong guys on the D-line ... we're all returners, and we had to show we are leaders," Vactor said. "We got down to the goal line and we told the others, 'Play the down like any other down.' We got down there, made the big stands and turned the game."