Tears streamed down the faces of several Navarre football players. Even a few cheerleaders cried.
One of the team managers sat on a cooler on the sideline with a dejected look on her face.
Inside a silent Navarre locker room, an offensive lineman sat on a bench in front of a whiteboard with the words unfinished business above it, shaking his head in disbelief as he took off his cleats.
Those moments only begin to paint the picture of the pain the Raiders felt late Friday night in the wake of their gut-wrenching 31-28 loss to bitter rival Gulf Breeze in front of a raucous overflow crowd at Bennett C. Russell Stadium.
As elated Gulf Breeze fans stormed the field to celebrate with the Dolphins, savoring the thrill of seeing their team win the District 2-6A title and end a nine-year Beach Bowl drought, senior Navarre running back Michael Carter looked around at the scene as he took off his shoulder pads.
“It’s another game,” Carter said. “In life, you don’t come out on top in every single one of them. At the end of the day, we didn’t win the district championship, we didn’t win the Beach Bowl. But we play next week, and that’s what we have to look to.”
But the Raiders (8-1, 2-1), ranked sixth in the state in 6A and winners of 20 consecutive regular-season games, came oh so close to coming away with a victory over the Dolphins (8-1, 3-0).
Down by three with a little over a minute to go, the Raiders marched right down the field. A pass interference call as Jordan Williams attempted to make a catch in the end one gave the Raiders the football at the Gulf Breeze 8-yard line with 8.5 seconds to play.
On the very next play, with the frenzied fans on both sides of the stadium on their feet, the snap to quarterback Caine Adamson was dropped and the pressure came from the Gulf Breeze defense. Adamson scooped up the ball and tried to run with it, scrambling around and hoping he could make something happen.
He had nowhere to run and no time to throw. He was tackled to the ground as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Game over. Pure joy for the Dolphins. Indescribable agony for the Raiders.
The plan on that play was to throw a pass to the end zone in the hopes a receiver would make a clutch catch. If it fell incomplete, the Raiders would have attempted a game-tying field goal. On this night, they never got that chance.
But no one can put the blame all on Adamson, who was consoled by several teammates as he walked off the field. The Raiders had other chances. They led this game 21-7 at one point in the first half and were up 21-17 at halftime.
They even had a 28-24 lead with 5:32 to play in the game after an 8-yard TD run by Carter.
“One play never wins or loses a game,” Navarre head coach Jay Walls said. “Overall, I thought we played hard. I’m proud of their effort. We had a chance to win but came up short. Gulf Breeze has a very good football team. The best we’ve played this year.”
The loss for the Raiders is the first in the regular season since 2014. It’s their first overall loss since last November when they were beaten 23-22 by Tate in double overtime in the opening round of the playoffs.
Walls told his team after the game to be disappointed but to also be motivated. He told the Raiders that while they can’t go 10-0 for a second consecutive year, they still have a lot they can accomplish, that their other goals for the season are still intact.
For now, the focus is on eighth-ranked Niceville next Friday night on the road. In two weeks, the Raiders open the postseason on the road against District 1-6A champion Escambia.
“I’m serious when I say this. Yeah, we lost, but it’s about how you bounce back. We all know that,” Carter said. “You can get down nine times, but you to get up the 10th time. We’re looking forward to the next obstacle in our way.”