Defense propels Raiders to victory over Gators

Slowing down Escambia isn’t easy. Not when the Gators thrive off their multi-pronged attack, which gives them the potential to score points in bunches.

But Navarre was ready for the challenge Friday night, forcing four turnovers, including a pair of interceptions by Michael Sandle, as it slowed Escambia’s offense to a crawl in an impressive 20-9 Homecoming victory at Bennett C. Russell Stadium.

“All week we focused on assignment football,” senior defensive back Michael Sandle said. “Everyone did their job and we came out with a win.”

The Raiders (7-0), ranked fifth in the state, came into this crucial non-district showdown with added motivation. A year ago, they allowed 30 points in a 44-30 come-from-behind win over the Gators in the opening round of the playoffs.

“We went back and watched the game from last year,” Sandle said. “We made a promise we weren’t going to let it get out of hand again.”

Preparation wasn’t easy. But it paid off. The Raiders, who swarmed to the ball often, gang-tackling the ball carrier time and again, led 14-0 at halftime and 14-3 at the end of three quarters.

Escambia failed to score 10 or more points for the first time all season. The Gators (4-3) had scored 21 or more five times this year.

“Defending their offense is hard to do,” Navarre head coach Jay Walls said. “Simulating their offense in practice is hard. But our kids did a good job all week and tonight. It was an outstanding effort.”

Ryan DiAmico picked off a pass to set up Navarre’s first scoring drive of the night. The drive ended when Hasaan Williams pushed his way into the end zone from three yards out with 10:18 left in the half.

Caine Adamson tucked the ball away and scored on a 13-yard run to extend the Raiders’ lead to 14-0, which turned out to be the halftime score.

Brady Hammel nailed field goals of 35 and 34 yards to cap the scoring for Navarre, which used a steady running attack to get the job done. The offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage most of the night.

The only negative was the loss of Aaron Mitchell. The standout running back went down with a knee injury after a 6-yard gain early in the fourth.

“It’s definitely serious,” Walls said. “Hopefully it’s not real bad. Aaron has done a great job and has given a great effort on offense and defense. You never want to see anyone get hurt.”

As for the win, it’s a big one, especially with Escambia receiving a few votes in the latest 6A poll.

“It feels great to win,” Sandle said. “It hasn’t sunk in all the way yet but we’re happy we got this one.”


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