New twist to Beach Bowl rivalry ends with familiar result

It went down to the wire, which is what a rivalry game is supposed to do. Navarre and Gulf Breeze battled until the end Friday night in the Beach Bowl.

But instead of playing in week 10, reclassification and district changes pushed Navarre and Gulf Breeze into a season-opening showdown.

Yet, this new twist to an old rivalry had a familiar result. The Raiders won the trophy one more time, edging the Dolphins 28-21 in front of a near sell-out crowd at Bennett C. Russell Stadium.

This was the 12th time these rivals have met with a trophy on the line, and for the 11th time, Navarre prevailed.

“We’re used to playing them later on down the road,” senior linebacker Jeffrey Mattox said. “They wanted to get a jump on us. That’s what they told us.”

But Navarre ended up getting the jump on Gulf Breeze. Literally.

Trent Hall leaped up and snagged an interception in his regular-season varsity debut, coming up with the ball as the Dolphins took one last-stab at tying the score in the final frantic minute.

After the pick, quarterback Marlon Courtney III was able to take a knee to ice the hard-fought win.

“That interception was amazing. Everyone was screaming, going crazy,” Mattox said. “It was their last hope. It was like a movie.”

Big plays kept Gulf Breeze in the game but Navarre came through with key stops when it mattered most to seal the deal on their 22nd win at home since 2015. Head coach Jay Walls won his 71st game at the helm of the Raiders.

“I’m proud of the effort of our kids,” Walls said. “We made some mistakes and things happened that hurt us, but our kids played hard and didn’t quit.”

It looked as if Navarre might roll to its third consecutive win over Gulf Breeze. Less than two minutes into the game, Courtney hit Jaydin Antonio on a 21-yard scoring strike.

The Dolphins tied the game at 7-7 with under four minutes to go in the quarter but the Raiders surged in front 14-7 with a minute left thanks to Courtney dodging defenders during a 17-yard run to the end zone.

He ran for a second score with just under nine minutes to play in the half, running in from a yard out just moments after connecting with Tyler England on a perfect 45-yard strike. England nearly got into the end zone on the play.

England would later grab his first touchdown catch of the year when Courtney, scrambling to avoid pressure near the Gulf Breeze 20-yard line, hit England for the scoring strike to push the Raider lead to 28-14 with 9:32 to play in the third.

“If it wasn’t for (Marlon), I wouldn’t be making those plays,” England said. “It’s really good having a quarterback like that. It gives me the ability to make plays.”

The Raiders went into the fourth up 28-14 and held on after the Dolphins cut the Navarre lead to seven with 8:30 left.

The players celebrated as soon as the clock hit zero and immediately sought out the Beach Bowl Trophy amid students storming the field.

The Raiders planned to enjoy the latest win in this rivalry but know there is still work to be done.

“We have a lot to work on as a team,” Mattox said. “We gave everything we got and that’s all we can ask for.”

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