CORSICANA, Texas — Crossing the Red River for the second time in three weeks, the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Golden Norsemen travel to Cub Field for a Southwest Junior College Football Conference game with the Navarro College Bulldogs on Saturday, Sept. 23.
Last season the Bulldogs were the odd man out after finishing in a three-way tie with NEO and Tyler Junior College for second place in the SWJCFC regular season.
After finishing 4-3 in the league, Navarro posted a 6-3 overall record.
Another oddity for Navarro was the tiebreaker used to determine the four teams in the conference playoffs.
Coach Cody Crill’s Bulldogs lost 51-46 to the Golden Norsemen at Red Robertson Field that eventually eliminated them from post-season contention.
Trailing 51-27 heading into the fourth quarter against NEO, the Bulldogs reeled off 19 straight points to narrowly suffer a loss. More than 1,200 combined yards were generated by both offenses in the slugfest. Navarro managed 644 total yards while the Golden Norse accumulated 628 total yards.
The deciding factor for the Norsemen was three consecutive field goals of 44, 39 and 40 yards during the third quarter to provide the margin of victory.
Since the creation of the series in the 1977 Garland (Texas) Chamber of Commerce Bowl game, the Golden Norse has maintained an 18-16-1 record against the Bulldogs.
Faced with having to replace three assistant coaches before starting spring practice, the Bulldogs missed five practice sessions while getting things sorted out.
The Bulldogs feature 13 redshirt freshmen among 69 returnees.
Navarro finished the spring drills and were expecting 46 true freshmen signees, walk-ons and six transfers among 121 prospects who are expected to report July 10 for the month-long July session.
Returnees Kyle Fuller and redshirt Derrick Ponder anchor the quarterback position for a unit that averaged 564.2 yards per game and 45.8 points last year.
Fuller (6-2, 185 from San Antonio, Texas) completed 68 of 131 passes for 773 yards and six touchdowns with six interceptions. He also recorded 30 carries for 28 yards and three TDs in four games.
Ponder (6-1. 195 from Bells, Texas) returned in the spring after being sidelined last year with an injury.
DeAndre Cook and Daylon Giddens anchor the running back spots after appearing as backups during their freshman seasons.
Cook (5-10, 200 from Arlington, Texas) rushed for 149 yards on 24 carries and scored four touchdowns. He also caught four passes for 28 yards innine games.
Giddens (5-10, 200 from Coldspring-Oakhurst, Texas) carried the ball 10 times for 68 yards in eight games as a freshman. He also returned one punt for 12 yards.
True freshman Josiah Patton (5-10, 165 from Hopkinsville, Texas) is expected to contend for a starting running back spot. Patton has exceptional speed and open field running ability.
Graduation stripped the Bulldogs of seven of their top eight receivers from the 2016 squad.
Devonte Mims (6-1, 205 from Palestine, Texas) is a returning wide out. Mims caught 23 passes for 205 yards in eight games.
Veteran wide receiver Matt Reyna (6-0, 175 from Kingwood, Texas) made five catches for 182 yards and three TDs in nine games. He also returned 11 kickoffs for 220 yards and three punts for 35 yards.
Redshirt sophomore Sabian Cannon (6-1, 185 from Austin, Texas) recorded a 14-yard reception in eight games. He also returned 11 kickoffs for 183 yards.
Eleven wide receivers alone touched the football during nine games last year for the Bulldogs.
Depletion of starters had an even more drastic effect on the defensive side of the football for Navarro. Ten of the 11 starters did not return for summer workouts.
The lone holdover, safety Matthew Wright, led the team in total tackles while averaging 11.3 per game.
Wright (5-11, 185 from Round Rock, Texas) posted 69 unassisted tackles and 34 assists in nine starts. He also recorded nine deflected passes.
However, they do have five players back who logged playing time: free safety Ernest Watts, corners Dominic Cameron and Benjie Franklin, linebacker L.I. Beckford and noseguard David Brazil.
Watts (5-10, 200 from Klein, Texas) made nine solo tackles, five assists with four pass deflections.
Cameron (5-10, 190 from Converse, Texas) posted 11 unassisted tackles and one assist while deflecting one pass in nine games.
Franklin (5-11, 190 from Alief, Texas) led Navarro with 11 pass deflections while recording 15 solo tackles and three assists.
As a freshman, Beckford made five unassisted tackles and 10 assists with two quarterback sacks for minus-13 yards.
Freshmen signees Tre Gatlin (6-6, 250 from Carthage, Texas) at strong side defensive end and Marion Walker (6-4, 255 from John Tyler (Texas) High School) at the other end spots are expected to be impact players for the Bulldogs.
Brazil (6-1, 260 from Lewisville, Texas) recorded six solo tackles and nine assists in nine games as a freshman.