Trinity Valley coach Brad Smiley knew the Southwest Junior College Football Conference opener would be a battle.
He didn't expect it to be a 25-19 victory against the No. 7-ranked Navarro College Bulldogs at Tiger Stadium in Corsicana.
Following a 17-0 lead with 8:33 remaining in the first quarter, No. 4 TVCC (2-0) was held to seven points the remainder of the game.
"It was not a great night for us on the road," Smiley said. "I will be honest with you, in 2013, 2015 and 2016, we dropped our first road game in conference play. These guys fought to make sure that didn't happen. I could not be more proud of this team, because we were in some tough spots. The crowd got behind us once they started going again. They responded really well, and made the plays when they had to."
The Cardinals return to action Saturday against the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Golden Norsemen at Bruce Field. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
This will be the first time back to Bruce Field for assistant coach Blake Bryan, who joined the NEO staff with coach Clay Patterson. Patterson was the offensive coordinator at TVCC two years ago.
No. 14-ranked NEO (1-0) opened conference play with a 40-7 victory over New Mexico Military Saturday at home.
Sophomore defensive lineman O'Shea Jackson came up with a fumble recovery last in the game that set up the game winning touchdown.
"I am super proud of that kid," the coach said. "He (Jackson) has had an unbelievably rough summer. He lost his mother as soon as we hit summer. He and his father have been through so much, and he came out here and blocked a field goal and gets the strip. He has been through tremendous amount of adversity. That is probably why a guy like him thinks this is just football to him."
With 1:54 remaining, Khalil Banks scored from three-yards out for the 23-19 lead.
The Cardinals went for two as Jaylon Henderson ran in the conversion.
"The whole defense played well," Smiley said. "That is a good offensive club with some good players. Both defenses really played well. After the first quarter, we are up 17-0 and I lost a lot of money. I was thinking there was no way we would get held to seven points the remainder of the game. Compliments to the Navarro staff."
The opening score of the game came with 13:07 remaining in the first quarter as Angel Sevier booted a 30-yard field goal.
TVCC then went on a six-play, 49 yard drive that led to a Kam Williams six-yard reception from Henderson for the 10-0 lead. The touchdown happened with 10:58 remaining in the quarter.
The final touchdown of the first half for TVCC came with 8:33 remaining as Tristen Wallace hauled in a 25 yard reception from Henderson for the 17-0 lead.
Sevier booted the PAT good with 8:33 remaining in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs would score 19 unanswered points as Benigno Heredia booted a 39-yard field goal with 3:47 remaining in the first.
In the second quarter, Heredia then nailed a 26-yard field goal with 8:25 remaining for the 17-6 deficit.
DeAndre Cook ran in a three yard touchdown with 4:06 remaining for a 17-13 lead.
The Bulldogs then took the lead with six seconds remaining as Harry Woodberry ran in from a yard out for the 19-17 lead.
Smiley said even with the run by the Bulldogs, he was confident in his team.
"We have been a great fourth quarter team throughout this run," Smiley said. "We feel like that is part of the plan is playing to win and don't flinch. We got into the fourth quarter down two, and we should be able to take care of business and we did."
TVCC was without the services of quarterback Shelton Eppler, who is recovering from an injury following the opener against Pima last week.
"Obviously, it was an incredible amount of adversity that we faced going into this," Smiley said. "We are missing some people, and to come out of this game probably losing a couple of more, these guys kept fighting."
(Story courtesy Joe Elerson/Athens Daily Review)