Navarre head coach Jay Walls stood in front of his team late Friday night, the pain of a 52-21 playoff loss to St. Augustine still fresh, the reality of the season coming to a close just beginning to sink in on a chilly evening on the East Coast of Florida.
Some of the players were fighting back tears. All of them had hoped for a different outcome at Foots Brumley Stadium.
Yet, despite this loss, a loss where the fourth-seeded Raiders (9-2) couldn’t match the fast and furious attack of the top-seeded Yellow Jackets (11-0), who always had an answer when Navarre looked like it was on the brink of a rally, Walls wanted his players to keep their heads held high.
“I told the kids you aren’t defined by one game, good or bad,” Walls said. “We are district champions, we are a playoff team, we have a winning record and we been in the playoffs six years in a row. We’re really competitive. I know the score doesn’t show it tonight, but our kids really competed.”
Three touchdowns by Dexter Brown was the biggest difference on a night when St. Augustine jumped on top 14-0 and never looked back. Brown scored on runs of 75, 80 and 93 yards, his speed simply unreal.
Yet, despite turnovers and despite missing out on scoring opportunities in the red zone, the Raiders only trailed 28-14 at halftime. Sage Chambers connected with Quinn Caballero in the closing seconds of the half, hitting him on a 10-yard scoring strike in the end zone on a fourth-down throw.
The second half typically belongs to the Raiders. Not this time. They found themselves down 38-14 with 7:17 left in the third quarter before Dante Wright caught a pass with no one around him and turned up the jets for a sprint down the left sideline to the end zone.
The pass play covered 82 yards and sliced the St. Augustine lead to 38-21. The Raider fans who packed the visiting stands cheered like crazy. Confetti was even thrown into the air.
Navarre never scored again. The Yellow Jackets kept scoring, ending the Raiders’ 16-game road win streak.
After the game, Chambers, a senior, had tears in his eyes. He even took a moment for a long embrace with his head coach.
“It hurts to lose, but the past four years in this program have been awesome,” Chambers said. “I love every single person in this program to death.”
For the players coming back next season, the work begins soon. They’ll take time to enjoy the holiday season and then prepare to make 2018 the best year yet.
“We have to look at the bright side, to look at all of the good things we did this year, and then get ready for next year,” Caballero said. “We’ll swallow this pill and keep on moving forward.”