Navarre Raiders punctuate win with thrilling ending

Navarre trailed Andalusia by four with just over two minutes to play Friday night. But it never gave up hope even as it stood on the brink of heartbreak.

The Raiders led most of the night, but now, a couple of yards outside the goal line, they needed a touchdown in the worst way.

So, with no time officially on the clock, they turned to running back Jaden Rivera and an offensive line down its entire starting lineup — all five were in quarantine — to get the job done. 

Rivera took the handoff and cut to his left. He found just enough running room to get across the goal line.

His only score of the night lifted the Raiders to a thrilling 16-14 win and set off a wild celebration on the field. Andalusia’s players walked off in disbelief.

With as tough of a night as it was to move the ball, Rivera never had doubts how the ending would go.

“When coach designed that play and called my number, I knew I was getting in,” Rivera said. 

Just moments before that touchdown, Navarre thought the game was over. Trent Hall went up for a pass in the end zone and couldn’t hang on. However, pass interference was called with no time left.

It gave Navarre (4-0) new life and a new opportunity to produce a feel-good moment after having not played since since Oct. 8.

Navarre, which canceled last week’s game against Niceville over COVID-19 concerns, was down 15 players.

“We needed something good to happen,” Navarre head coach Jay Walls said. 

The Raiders led 10-0 after Preston Penton closed the first half out with a school-record 48-yard field goal.

A state semifinalist the last four years, Andalusia (5-4) took the lead at 14-10 with 2:27 to go, poised to go back to Alabama with a victory.

But big plays kept Navarre alive on the final drive. That includes a clutch catch by Jebari Mitchell in which he was flipped over by the defense but still hung onto the ball as he fell down inside the 5-yard line.

“I’m proud of our kids. It was a four-quarter effort. A big win,” Walls said.

Both teams played tough. Offense was hard to come by. The defenses locked into a battle of wills and the Raiders made enough plays in the end. They also forced three turnovers.

“It was a dogfight. It was exhausting. But at the end of the day, we were able to dog it out and win,” defensive lineman Grady Kelly said.

Navarre scored its only other points of the night on Trent Hall’s touchdown catch a minute into the opening quarter.

Like Kelly, defensive lineman Lucas Marvel also saw time on the offensive line. He pointed to the team’s ability to adapt as a key factor in the win.

“We have people that played in spots they haven’t played in before, but they stepped up when we needed them to and made plays,” Marvel said.

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