Raiders rise to occasion in regular-season finale

 

        

In case you were wondering how good the defense of the Navarre Raiders really is, look no further than a two-minute span in the second quarter Friday night.

It was during that stretch that Kevon Washington and Dante Wright picked off passes and swung the momentum in the Raiders’ favor for good in a 42-20 win over rival Niceville in the regular-season finale at Bennett C. Russell Stadium.

Washington’s pick six in which he stepped in front of a pass, reading the play as if it were as easy as the alphabet and returning it 21 yards, tied the score at 7-7 with 9:03 to go. Wright snagged an interception with 7:14 left and took it just over 60 yards to the house to give Navarre a 14-7 advantage.

“It shows how good our defense is,” Wright said. “We are really agile, playing the screen and the go. They really didn’t have an answer for that.”

The Eagles didn’t have much of an answer for Wright in general when it came to slowing down the electrifying athlete. Wright caught a 6-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter for a 21-7 advantage and then weaved through traffic on a 39-yard run out of the wildcat to stretch the Raiders’ lead to 28-13 later in the quarter.

His touchdown reception was his 10th, the most in a single-season in program history. His touchdown total overall stands at 22.

“He makes plays. What can you say?,” Navarre head coach Jay Walls said. “He did that last year as a 10th grader, continued it as a junior, and has done a super job. “The kid works really hard, he’s humble, he’s a team guy. He will do anything for the team. It shows in the way he plays.”

The 10th-ranked Raiders (8-1) struggled early on offense against the Eagles (6-3) but leaned on their defense to stay in the game. The two interception returns saved Navarre, which led 14-7 at halftime.

Navarre marched right down the field to start the second half before Wright leaped into the air for a touchdown grab and two-score cushion. The touchdown toss was the 12th for Sage Chambers, who knew the Raiders had to breathe life into their offense in the second half.

“It was awesome,” Chambers said. “We went into halftime and coach got on our butts. It really fired us up.”

Wright would have been involved in a fourth touchdown but his scoring strike to Quinn Caballero was waived off by a holding penalty with 1:30 left in the third. The Raiders led 28-20 entering the fourth. Two touchdowns by rising offensive threat Josh Carter — one on a 10-yard run, the other on a 25-yard touchdown catch — helped Navarre improve to 30-4 over the last three seasons.

“It’s natural,” Carter said of playing offense. “I’ve played it my whole life. I can always get better at it, but it’s not something new to me. It’s not something overwhelming.”

This was a night where Navarre was playing in front of a spirited crowd and in the presence of Raider legend Michael Carter, who graduated last year as the program’s all-time leading rusher. His oldest brother, Dwayne, has been at every game and ranks second all-time in rushing yards.

Already assured of a postseason berth and a first-round home game, the Raiders wanted to finish strong on senior night. Thanks in part to the defense’s non-stop, aggressive play, Navarre accomplished its goal against an opponent that has scored 40 or more five times this season.

“We have a relentless attitude and everyone just swarms to the ball,” senior linebacker Cade Taylor said. “We work to create turnovers and get the ball to our offense so that they can make plays.”

There is a good chance Navarre and Niceville meet again in the playoff opener. The bracket will be released Sunday. All the Raiders know is they want to finish what they started a year ago when they made it to the state semifinals.

“We’re very happy we won, but this isn’t the end,” Taylor said. “We have to keep fighting and keep working hard.”

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