Special to the PRESS
CORPUS CHRISTI — There was a light chill in the air on Saturday night in Calallen, but there was also some Port Isabel Tarpon magic, too.
In front on a charged up Tarpon crowd, the boys dug deep several times to win a back-and-forth thriller over Geronimo Navarro 35-28 in overtime at Phil Danaher Field.
Port Isabel advanced to the fourth round of the state football playoffs for the fourth time since 1981. Now, Port Isabel (10-3) continues its December football run and will take on Bellville in the 3A Region IV final next Saturday at Cabaniss Stadium in Corpus Christi at 6 p.m. Navarro saw its season close with a 10-3 record.
“It was just a great effort by our kids,” Tarpons head coach Monty Stumbaugh said. “I’m happy for our kids, our coaching staff and the entire town of Port Isabel. The fans packed the stands tonight.”
Things didn’t start so well for the boys in blue as they quickly trailed 13-0 in the first quarter. Navarro’s Evan DeLeon scored on two touchdowns thanks to the Panthers’ powerful running game which had over 380 total yards rushing.
Meanwhile, PI struggled on offense and could not get going. They punted back to Navarro but pinned them deep and needed a stop.
They got that stand and it served as a springboard to a comeback. A couple of plays later, running back Javier Vela ran for a 55-yard touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, PI’s Esteven Montelongo recovered a fumble and the Tarpons cashed it in on Isaiah Martinez’s 1-yard score. Marcelo Sanchez hit the extra point and the Tarpons led 14-13 with just 3:19 left before halftime.
“We got some stops when we needed them,” Stumbaugh said. “We had some big stops.”
A tough Panther squad answered when L.J. Anderson rushed in a 14-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion try was stopped and Navarro went ahead 19-14. Just before half, the Tarpons’ Kenneth Herrera recorded an interception and almost ran it the distance but it was stopped.
After halftime, the Tarpons picked up where they left off. They got good field position thanks to a nice return plus a personal foul on Navarro. A couple of plays later, Martinez was at it again when he notched a 25-yard touchdown. Despite a missed extra point, the Tarpons had the lead at 20-19 with only 18 seconds off the clock.
Again, Navarro got a big play of its own when Anderson scored on a 68-yard run. The two-point try failed to leave it 25-20 Panthers still in the third.
The Panthers mounted a good drive that PI’s defense stopped and Anderson kicked a 29-yard field goal to push the Panthers edge to 28-20.
Trailing by eight, the Tarpons took over at their own 5 yard line with about four minutes to go. Slowly but surely, they drove down the field and scored on a dramatic five-yard touchdown from Vela, who had well over 200 yards on the ground for the night. The senior pushed the pile (with help from Juan Aguilera and the boys) and scored with just one tick left. Vela also caught the two-point try to tie the game 28-28.
“That was huge,” Stumbaugh said. “We felt like we could run some option a little bit on them. We got a big play and then it was an unbelievable run and that was pure want to (by Vela and the offense).”
In overtime, the Tarpons got the ball first and made it interesting, converting a fourth down and and scoring on a one-yard sneak by Martinez. Then it was up to the defense and on fourth down, Navarro’s pass in the flat fell incomplete and the celebration was on.