Gator Bitten: Navarre suffers gut-wrenching loss to Escambia

Twenty-seven point leads aren’t supposed to disappear. Not at home.  Not on Homecoming. But one did for Navarre in its showdown with Escambia Friday night at Bennett C. Russell Stadium.

The state-ranked Raiders owned the first half. A 63-yard touchdown catch by Dante Wright, interception returns for touchdowns by Wright and Josh Carter and a bruising 4-yard run by Omari Green added up to a 27-0 lead.

Navarre couldn’t catch a break in the second half. Momentum was lost. Opportunities were missed. The No. 7 Raiders were left to digest a 35-27 loss to the Gators that went down about as well as cough medicine.

“The first quarter, we had a ton of momentum. We scored on the first play, had two pick sixes and played a great first half,” Navarre head coach Jay Walls said. “The second half, give all of the credit to Escambia. They played really good. They made plays and we came up short.”

The first half was nearly perfect. Just 22 seconds into the game, the Raiders were on the board thanks to Sage Chambers hitting Wright, who was wide-open on a scoring strike.

Wright returned a pick 102 yards for a score four minutes later, pushing the Raiders (5-1) in front 14-0. Josh Carter’s 46-yard interception return for a score extended Navarre’s lead to 21-0. Green’s ninth touchdown of the season gave Navarre a commanding 27-0 lead with 7:16 to play in the half.

The second half looked like a formality, especially considering Navarre had given up just 34 points in the final two quarters of its last four games.

But this is Navarre vs. Escambia and the games are always close. Three of the first six meetings between the schools had been decided by single digits. This one can now be added to the list, and it’s the first time the Raiders have ever lost to the Gators.

Escambia (4-2) did everything right in the second half, erasing  a 27-6 halftime deficit as it cashed in on big plays, including a crucial fumble return for the game-winning touchdown with 4:18 to go, and it gave up little on defense, stealing a page from the script Navarre used to build a first-half lead.

Navarre had an opportunity in the final minute to avoid the upset. It couldn’t make anything happen.

But there is still a lot of football left. The loss guarantees only one thing.

“We can’t go undefeated. That’s the only thing we can’t accomplish,” Walls said.

Chambers has no plans to let the loss crush him. It hurts, sure, but he refuses to let it define anything.

“We can’t dwell on it,” Chambers said. “It’s out of my head. It’s out of everyone else’s head. We are going to come back stronger than ever.”

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