Editor’s Note: The stats used in this article are unofficial.
GONZALES — The bend-but-don’t-break Apache defense broke a few too many times Friday night. Add to that a few mistakes on offense, including some untimely turnovers, and some mix-ups on special teams and the Apaches came away with a close 17-16 season-opening loss against the visiting Navarro Panthers, 17-16.
Shut out in the first half, the Apaches offense came roaring back to start the second half. Heath Henke led the team on a 13-play, 62-yard touchdown drive that ended in a four-yard rush by the senior quarterback. Henke converted the two-point play to cut the lead to 10-8.
In comparison, the offense had just three first downs in their four offensive drives the first half.
“Coaches did a good adjustment,” Gonzales head football coach Mike Waldie explained. “I think they [Navarro] got us out of rhythm in the first half, they brought some pressure we weren’t necessarily expecting with some run-through linebacker stuff. I give the offense a lot of credit. We were in a funk in the first half with the turnovers, they were running the clock and we couldn’t get going. So we settled down and added a little ‘Q-run,’ got an extra guy in the box that they couldn’t defend and man we’re one play away from pulling it out. It’s one of those things.”
Running back Dillen Ramos proved to be a factor that drive, rushing six times for 28 yards. Ramos finished the night with 67 yards rushing.
On the very next offensive drive, Panther’s senior running back Johnny Alegria busted through for a 68-yard touchdown run. The lead was extended to Navarro 17, Gonzales 8. This would be the Panthers’ longest play of the game.
“We talked about it,” Waldie said of the big play. “You take away probably, I bet when I watch film, somewhere in between three and five total plays from the defense and you couldn’t play any better at any point in the season, much less an opening game. Coach [Charlie] Bunch and his staff and those kiddos deserve a huge amount of credit, but three times we got our eyes in the wrong place and against a good football team you’re in trouble but against that offense you’re in real trouble and it showed.”
Navarro’s other touchdown came on a five-play, 62-yard drive, highlighted by a 37-yard dash by senior running back Euler Deleon. Deleon finished off the drive with an eight-yard rush.
Late in the game, down by nine, the Apaches started their drive on the Navarro 39 after an interception by Adrian Rodriguez after a tipped pass by Jeremiah Hastings. Couple of plays later, the Apaches converted on a 4th-and-10 play, a Henke 16-yard pass to Coby Rodriguez. Later, Henke found Diego Diaz De Leon for a 16-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 17-14.
“I was proud of him [Henke],” Waldie said. “They brought some pressure and did some things. It’s hard the first week, I think we’ll get there. I was proud of him, proud of the receivers with some big catches at the end, Coby made a huge catch, Heath stepped up, threw the ball effectively, o-line did a little better the second half. Again, we had four brand new starters tonight. Those are all things we got to work on, but we will.”
The ensuing extra point was then botched, but a heads up play by Rodriguez allowed the special teams unit to improvise and the senior holder found Arbreyon Dora in the end zone for two points, making the score 17-16.
Unfortunately for the Apaches, that would be their last offensive drive of the night, as the Panthers, with 4:29 left in the game, were able to drain the rest of the clock with two big first-down plays, first a 10-yard rush by junior running back Jean Sims on 3rd-and-7 and a 58-yard rush by Deleon who was tackled one yard away from the touchdown.
“I told the guys, I can’t make them bigger, faster, stronger or bigger heart, but the good news is, I don’t need to,” Waldie said of his squad. “The things that we did wrong tonight I feel confident that we can own as a coaching staff and fix. Then we got to own as players and fix. We can’t turn the ball over, we can’t have stupid penalties, we can’t have special teams mix-ups, all those cost us a one-point victory. It wasn’t effort, it wasn’t heart, it wasn’t schematics. So that’s a positive for Week 1 for sure against a really really good football team.”
Despite the positives out of the Apaches’ first real test on the field, Waldie stated that the score isn’t one to celebrate.
“One thing I want the community tonight and these kids, I told them the same thing, there’s no such thing as a moral victory though,” Waldie stressed. “Losing is unacceptable in this program. My daddy used to say, you’re only close in horse shoes and hand grenades. So I’m disappointed tremendously in that. But I am extremely excited about the football team that we can become.”
The Gonzales Apaches have a road game next week on Friday, Sept. 6 against Austin Crockett.