It’s a word rarely used in sports, but it was fitting for the Navarre Raiders Friday night.
Facing rival Niceville in a showdown of state-ranked teams, the No. 3 Raiders capped the first unbeaten regular season in school history with a 35-13 win over the No. 6 Eagles at Bennett C. Russell Stadium.
“It feels great to make history,” senior running back Hasaan Williams said. “With all of the adversity we have faced, I am proud of team. Everyone stepped up.”
Navarre (10-0) lost to Niceville the previous two years but would not be denied this time, fueled by the motivation of last year’s 35-21 loss that ended the Raiders’ string of six straight wins to start the year.
It didn’t look good early as the Eagles (8-2) took a 7-0 lead on Eli Stove’s 70-yard touchdown catch. They went in front 13-7 on Deonte Sheffield’s 9-yard touchdown grab.
But the Raiders didn’t fold under the pressure. They tied the game at 7-7 on a Williams’ 22-yard catch and run in the first quarter. They took the lead on Caine Adamson’s 56-yard run early in the second.
And then Navarre stole the momentum when linebacker Xavier Fernandez blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone for a 21-13 lead. The Raiders never looked back.
“I told our guys Niceville is a good team,” Navarre head coach Jay Walls said. “I told them not to press and don’t play tight. Just keep playing. They played great.”
Williams, who rushed for close to 200 yards, gave the Raiders a 28-13 lead late in the third as he cut through the defense for a 22-yard touchdown run.
Navarre then recovered a kickoff as the ball bounced off the return man’s feet and capitalized when Tyler Rebber bulldozed his way into the end zone from three yards out.
The defense did the rest, pressuring the quarterback and denying big plays time and again.
“We don’t get down when the other team scores,” Fernandez said. “We were happy they scored. It puts us in a good position to prove we are a good defense.”
The Raiders indeed made a statement against a Niceville team that had not scored less than 24 points in any game this season.
But being the best Navarre team in school history is something the players have strived for since those morning workouts in the summer heat. The 10-0 record helps cement that status but so much more is left to be accomplished.
“It’s an accomplishment (to be 10-0) but we haven’t won a playoff game yet,” Williams said. “We’re still focused and ready to keep this thing going.”