Defense propels Raiders to win over Panthers

Kobe Johnson threw the football into the air moments after getting it in his hands after a big play on defense.

Moments earlier, the ball had been knocked out of a Milton receiver’s hands on a hard hit by Bailey Huston in the end zone.

Johnson’s recovery of the fumble  with 1:41 to go sealed the deal on Navarre’s hard-fought 21-13 win over the Panthers at Haywood Hanna Stadium in Milton.

No one could blame him for celebrating a little, even if it did mean a penalty flag was thrown as a result.

You need to have a little fun right?

“Yes sir,” Johnson said.

Johnson is just that kind of player.

“I’m an emotional guy. I trash talk. That’s just me. It’s just who I am,” Johnson said. “I want to make us all better.”

The play defined the kind of effort this Raider defense put forth against a much improved Milton football team.

Normally run over by the Raiders, losing by three or more touchdowns each of the past four seasons, the Panthers came out ready to play.

Navarre (3-0) responded when it mattered most against Milton (1-1), especially on defense.

A couple of runs by Jaden Rivera on the other side of the ball helped the Raiders run out the clock on their 21st win in their last 23 road games.

“We played our hearts out,” Brennen Payton said. “We go hard in practice and in game time, it pays off. Hard work pays off.”

Raider head coach Jay Walls, coaching in his 90th game since taking over the program in 2012, breathed a sigh of relief when the clock struck zero in this non-district battle on a warm September evening.

“If they score, they probably go for two and anything can happen,” Walls said. That right there, was the epitome of our defense.”

Navarre and Milton are former district opponents. Classification changes this season gave this game a different meaning. But Walls had no problem motivating his team. Already with wins over Gulf Breeze and Pace, the Raiders completed the Santa Rosa County sweep.

“We talked to them about the opportunity to win the unofficial county championship,” Walls said. “It was a great effort by our kids.”

A bad snap on a punt attempt allowed the Raiders to strike first. 

The ball got away from the punter and knocked loose from his hands near the end zone. Payton pounced on the ball and dove into the end zone with it for a 7-0 lead with 4:16 to go in the opening quarter.

“The end zone was right there. I might as well get in it,” Payton said. “It was fun. I had a good time doing it. It was good to get momentum on our side.”

Marlon Courtney didn’t have his best night, throwing a couple of interceptions.

Still, he managed to connect with Trent Hall and Tyler England on touchdown passes.

His throw to England down the middle of the field covered 82 yards, extending the Navarre lead to 21-7 at halftime.

It wasn’t a pretty second half but the Raiders did enough to extend their September win streak to 23 games. Navarre opens District 1-7A play Thursday night in Tallahassee against Lincoln.

“Our kids have confidence and I hope this gives us more,” Walls said. “We start district play in Tallahassee. We have to be on top of our game.”

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