Raiders set for playoff opener against Tate

As great as it was to finish the regular season unbeaten, the Navarre Raiders have to put the remarkable 10-0 run behind them for now.

It’s playoff time, and the second season begins Friday night when the third-ranked Raiders welcome Tate to town for a 7:30 p.m. 6A first-round showdown at Bennett C. Russell Stadium.

“It’s an accomplishment (to be 10-0) but we haven’t won a playoff game yet,” senior running back Hasaan Williams said. “We’re still focused and ready to keep this thing going.”

The Raiders, the District 2-6A champions, have played focused from the start, approaching each game as if it’s the biggest of the year.

They have overcome injuries to key players and have embraced the team concept, navigating through a schedule that included three teams that were ranked or had been ranked at some point, including No. 6 Niceville, which Navarre defeated 35-13 on Friday.

Six times Navarre has put up 40 or more points while the defense has given only 118 points, shutting out two opponents along the way.

“It’s been a lot of fun to coach this team,” Navarre head coach Jay Walls said. “The kids are deserving of it. They have worked hard all year.”

But their work isn’t done yet. Tate (7-2), ranked as high as sixth in the state at one point this year, has won four of its last five games. The Aggies are the runner-up out of District 1-6A.

Sawyer Smith leads the offense, throwing for 1,678 yards and 13 touchdowns. Jake Henry is his top target, catching 36 passes for 777 yards and nine scores.

The running game has been fueled by the play of Alondo Thompkins and Dee Thompson. Thompkins has rushed for 1,042 yards and 11 touchdowns while Thompson has churned out 903 yards and eight scores.

The defense of the Aggies is led by Dallas Ditto, who has racked up 128 tackles.

“Tate is a great team,” Walls said. “They have big-play potential. To me, they are a lot like Niceville.”

The Raiders are led by Williams, who has rolled up 1,107 yards and 10 touchdowns behind an offensive line that consistently opens up big holes. Williams has also caught three touchdown passes.

Navarre’s defense is led by Bo Hering, who has come up with 75 tackles. Xavier Fernandez has racked up 60 tackles.

Ryan Diamco (45), Anthony Miller (44), Jay Klosinski (28), Tyler Morton (28), Michael Sandle (21), Chandler Mapoles (21), Josh Carter (21) and Lee Jones (20) have all been solid contributors as well on a defense that has recorded 31 sacks.

“We just have to keep doing our thing,” Fernandez said. “We have to stick our nose to the grindstone and keep going. “

The Raiders have talked all year about being the best team in school history, and they are five wins away from the ultimate prize.

Preparation is the key to making that state championship dream a reality.

“We’ll do the same thing we have done every week, and that is come in and practice and respect our opponent,” Williams said. “We have to practice like they are playing the best team in the nation. We’ll be prepared for (Friday).”

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