Heartbroken a year ago, Navarre was wrapped in pure joy late Wednesday night at Bennett C. Russell Stadium, a 2-1 semifinal win over area powerhouse Washington in the books, a trip to the District 1-4A championship game guaranteed.
Senior Bobby Holderman never forgot that 1-0 semifinal loss to the Wildcats last season.
“That was sad. I definitely cried after that one,” Holderman said. “I’m glad we won this time.”
Goals by Ethan Green and Hayden Richard staked the third-seeded Raiders to a 2-0 lead at halftime.
But Raiders head coach Abdalla Elbaioumy never felt as if the lead was safe. His team would have to play just as well in the second half to survive an intense and physical showdown with the second-seeded Wildcats.
“No lead is ever too big in soccer,” Elbaioumy said. “We had momentum, but I told the guys we had to focus and we can’t relax.”
Washington cut the lead to 2-1 and was relentless in its attack to forge a tie. These two teams tied twice during the regular season. Navarre led in both instances. It wasn’t going to let history repeat itself again.
Enter Korey Betts, a freshman goalie in a pressure-packed situation. He was clutch time and again in the final frantic and maddening minutes of a game with so much riding on it.
Betts deflected passes, he dove for the ball. He did whatever he had to in order to help the Raiders keep the lead. After the game, in the midst of the celebration, he and his coach embraced on the field.
“I talked to Korey earlier this week and asked if I could trust him, if I could believe in him, and he said I got you coach,” Elbaioumy said. “He saved us. He has a chance to be one of the best goalkeepers in program history.”
Navarre now turns its attention to Niceville Friday night. The Raiders and Eagles square off at 6 p.m. in Navarre and the Raiders will be seeking their first district crown since 2015. They are already assured of a regional tournament berth.
The Raiders lost 2-0 and 3-0 to the Eagles in the regular season. But in a tournament, anything is possible.
“When we play as a team we can do anything,” Holderman said. “It’s exciting and we’re happy we made it to the finals.”