Celebration time! Raiders win the Beach Bowl

Teammates tried to distract Chris Williams during a post game interview.

Williams smiled and even a laughed a little. But he  never lost his focus.

The same can be said about the Navarre Raiders in their 40-12 dismantling of Gulf Breeze  in the Beach Bowl Friday night.

The Raiders dominated all three phases of the game on this chilly October evening at Bennett C. Russell Stadium.

They repeated as District 2-6A champs and  won their sixth title overall.

They also grabbed an automatic bid to the playoffs and maintained bragging rights over their county rival.

Navarre is 10- 1-with the trophy on the line and 12-8 in the all-time series.

“It feels really good,” Williams said. “It sets us up for the playoffs and home-field advantage (in the first round), and we put another trophy on the board.”

The dominance doesn’t surprise him.

“We practice how we play, and we practiced hard all week,” Williams said.

The senior running back helped the seventh-ranked Raiders (7-1, 3-0) score 40 or more for the sixth time. He was one of six players to score a touchdown.

Williams found the end zone on a 13-yard run with 8:22 left in the third that pushed the lead to 33-0.

The defense  shut down one of the best running backs in the state in Tyler Dittmer, who came in with nearly 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns.

He rarely found running room against a Raiders defense that swarmed to the ball and brought pressure.

“If we play like we can play, we can be the best defense in the state,” senior linebacker Josh Carter said. “I’m not really surprised.

The Raiders also clicked on special teams.

Jacobi Smith gave the Raiders tremendous field position with punts that pinned the Dolphins (7-2, 2-1) deep in their own territory.

And there was the blocked punt that led to an easy touchdown.

Evan Gourley recovered it in the end zone.

The block was part of a 19-point first quarter in which Dante Wright opened things up by catching a wide-open pass across the middle of the field from Marlon Courtney and burning the defenders chasing him on the 70-yard reception.

Quinn Caballero’s 12-yard touchdown run near the end of the quarter capped the scoring.

“I think the big key was getting momentum early, and I thought our kids played great in all three phases,” Navarre head coach Jay Walls said. “I’m really proud of what they did tonight. We had great execution in everything. We kept our poise and played good ball.”

Both teams entered this game off a bye week. The last two meetings had been decided by a combined nine points.

More of the same was expected this time.

But in front of a near sellout crowd in a game with so much riding on it, the Raiders rose to the occasion.

They were ahead 26-0 at halftime after Garon Finley took a toss from Courtney and found Tyler England wide open in the end zone.

Josh Carter’s 4-yard touchdown run put the Raiders on top 40-0 heading into the fourth.

Fans stormed the field as soon as time expired. The players celebrated with them.

The regular season wraps up against Niceville next Friday.

For now, the Raiders are going to enjoy their big win.

“It’s a rivalry game, a district championship, a TV game. We’re going to celebrate. We’re definitely going to celebrate,” Carter said.

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