Raiders one win away from shot at state title

Just over two minutes were left on the clock and Navarre had its grip on an 18-point lead after Michael Carter scored his fourth touchdown of the game.

Loyal fans who made the nearly 400-mile trip to St. Augustine to watch their beloved Raiders play in a 6A regional final showdown against the Yellow Jackets were on their feet cheering.

Meanwhile, on the energized Navarre sideline, the celebration was underway. Players who have worked so hard for this opportunity were beginning to exchange high fives and hugs, taking a few seconds to soak in the special feeling of this moment.

This journey is far from over. Navarre hasn’t won a state championship yet, but it moved within a win of a title shot on a mild November evening with a 28-10 win over St. Augustine at HL Brumley Stadium. 

The Raiders (12-1) now advance to play Lake Gibson (12-0) next Friday night in the friendly confines of Bennett C. Russell Stadium. A trip to the first state title game in program history will be on the line.

Carter, the North Carolina commit who fueled the offense as he has so many times before during this storybook season, rushing for more than 200 yards against a Yellow Jackets defense that has recorded three shutouts this year, can’t wait for the opportunity.

“We want to win a state championship. That’s our goal,” Carter said. “We’ve wanted to win one since the beginning of the year. It’s been our mission.”

The mission isn’t complete yet. But it’s close. 

Carter put the exclamation point on the victory with a couple of minutes to go in the fourth, busting through a crowd of defenders who thought Carter was down but paid dearly for allowing that thought to cross their minds.

While they stopped making an effort to tackle, Carter kept running, 70 yards in all, raising his finger in the air while running alongside wide receiver Jordan Williams into the end zone.

He was greeted by his teammates as he came back to the sideline and the crowd, which filled the entire visiting side of the stands, went crazy as Navarre pushed its lead to 28-10 and drove a dagger through the heart of the Yellow Jackets (11-2), who were making their 18th consecutive playoff appearance. 

“At the beginning of the play, I was trying to score. I tell you all the time I always try to score,” Carter said. “I paused for a second, but I can’t stop running just because everyone else does.”

This win wouldn’t have been possible without the gutsy and determined effort of the defense. Three times in the second half the Yellow Jackets, down 14-7 at halftime, marched into the red zone.

They managed only three points.

Logic says the Yellow Jackets should have scored more, especially when you consider this is a team that has scored 40 or more five times this year. The Raiders, though, with the pressure rising, refused to fold.

“We have heart,” said linebacker Caleb Dale. “They are a hard running team. We are a hard defense. It came down to heart. We finished it.”

Dale’s interception with 4:25 to go in the third set the tone for Carter’s 1-yard TD run, which extended Navarre’s lead to 21-7 after three quarters of action.

“Our defense did a great job of holding them to 10 points,” Navarre head coach Jay Walls said. “They had numerous goal-line stands. It was a really great effort.”

The win was the 50th for Walls in his career at Navarre but that accomplishment wasn’t nearly as big of a deal to him as the effort his team put forth in a game with so much riding on it.

“It was an outstanding team effort,” Walls said. “What a great win for our guys on the road against a good team.”

After a scoreless first quarter highlighted by the swarming defensive effort of Navarre, the Raiders put points on the board in the second when Carter bounced off several defenders as if he was inside a pinball machine and got into the end zone even as a defender hung onto him, clinging to the ball and his jersey.

That score gave the Raiders a 7-0 lead with 9:43 left in the half. St. Augustine answered quickly on Jacoby Feliciano’s 66-yard TD catch to tie the game at 7-7.

Carter’s 6-yard run gave the Raiders a 14-7 lead. Mitchell Hunt hammered quarterback Cole Northrup on a vicious sack as the first half came to a close with the Raiders up seven.

Navarre’s defense dominated the second half and has now held its last two opponents to a combined 10 points in the second halves of games. Carter did his part on offense behind an offensive line that never stopped battling to make sure Navarre advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since 2012.

“It’s a dream come true,” Carter said. “We’re in the semifinals now, one game away from competing for a state championship. We see it. It’s right there for us.”

For Tony Carter, an assistant coach with the Raiders and the father of Michael and  Josh, a sophomore defensive lineman for the Raiders, this win is extra special.

“It’s an awesome feeling. I had no doubt that this is where we were going to be,” Tony said. “I’ve known these boys all their life, since they were 5,6,7 years old. They are right where they belong. They have been working for this and preparing for this. They have come together as a team and we all do it for each other.”

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