Sewn into Navarre’s showdown with Choctaw Thursday night at Bennett C. Russell Stadium were a host of storylines. They made this game on a warm October evening all the more meaningful.
It was senior night for starters. A total of 39 of them recognized prior to kickoff of the first home game of a season that has been impacted by both the COVID-19 pandemic and the hit from Hurricane Sally just a few weeks ago.
It was also the 100th game of head coach Jay Walls’ career at Navarre.
There is also the fact that senior Raider running back Jaden Rivera began his career at Choctaw. And now, as one of the top rushers in the area, he had a chance to go up against his former team.
Rivera seized the moment. So did his teammates as the Raiders rolled to a 50-21 win over the Indians in front of an energized crowd that saw Navarre play on its home turf for the first time since October of 2019.
“It means more when you basically have family on the other side,” Rivera said. “I had to go way harder.”
Rivera caught a touchdown pass and rushed for another score, hitting the 100-yard mark for the third consecutive game and for the fifth time in his last six games dating back to last year.
Navarre (3-0) scored a season-high in points. The defense was relentless, forcing a couple of turnovers and recording a safety. It also came up with a critical stop in the final minutes of the opening quarter.
Backed up at its own 2-yard line after Connor Eastwood and Grady Kelly teamed up for a sack that resulted in a loss of nine yards, an incomplete pass and a near interception by Bailey Huston left the Indians (0-4) with no choice but to punt. The stop helped preserve a 14-7 first-quarter lead.
“It was pretty big,” senior linebacker Sebastian Melendez said. “It got everybody jacked up. We were ready to go.”
The Raiders owned a 36-7 lead at halftime and finished the second half strong to notch their fifth consecutive win dating back to 2019.
For Walls, it was his 79th win at the helm of the Raiders. He has lost only 21 games since taking over in 2012.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have really good players and most of my staff has been with me going on nine years,” Walls said. “And then the support, the fans, the community and the administration help make a great team.”
Originally scheduled for Friday, the game was moved to Thursday because of the threat of Hurricane Delta. Its track has since shifted further west.
Zach Marquis threw three scoring strikes, including two to Trent Hall, and Jason Deal’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Jebari Mitchell in stride gave Navarre a 6-0 lead less than a minute into the game.
Choctaw responded to take a 7-6 lead. But Marquis’ 20-yard pass to Hall over the middle of the field put Navarre on top for good. Marquis then ran in the 2-point conversion for a 14-7 edge.
Ahead comfortably at halftime, Isaiah Miller gave Navarre its first points of the second half. He pushed his way through the defense from 2 yards out for a touchdown. TJ Peltier capped the scoring with a 1-yard run early in the fourth.
Up next is a road date with Niceville next Friday. The Eagles are 4-0 and have put a running clock in motion against all four of their opponents.
Walls challenged his team after the game to be ready for the big moment in front of it.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Walls said.
Read the Oct. 15 issue of the Navarre Press for more coverage of the Raiders.