With their backs against the wall, the Navarre Raiders responded in a must-win situation.
They prevailed in a hard-fought District 1-7A game against Leon Monday night, grinding out a 31-28 victory at Gene Cox Stadium in Tallahassee.
Entering the week in eighth in the latest regional playoff poll, every game now matters a little more for Navarre.
Originally scheduled for Friday, the threat of a tropical storm pushed this game against the Lions, and most other games across the Panhandle, to Monday.
The scheduled change showed in the first half, but the Raiders (5-4, 2-3) adjusted well after halftime and took care of business.
“Our kids kept playing,” Navarre head coach Jay Walls said. “I thought the first half we were a little flat, but I will say this, I thought the second that we came out and played much better. We won the fourth quarter and we haven’t done that all year.”
The Raiders trailed 14-6 at halftime. Two Preston Penton field goals accounted for Navarre’s only points of the half against the Lions (3-5, 1-4).
A pair of touchdowns by Jaden Rivera, who nearly hit the 200-yard mark for the second consecutive week, and another score by Jaydin Antonio helped Navarre seal the deal.
Preston Penton also contributed in the second half. He nailed a school-record tying 43-yard field goal that extended the Raider lead to 24-14 with 7:52 to play.
Momentum started to swing in Navarre’s favor early in the third. Tyler England picked off a pass and that eventually set up a 5-yard touchdown run by Antonio. Bailey Huston plunged into the end zone on the two-point conversion play to tie the score at 14.
Rivera then turned in a touchdown run that was 32 yards of determination. He pushed off a couple of defenders near the end zone and put the Raiders in front for good at 21-14.
“Coach (Tony) Carter always says expect greatness, and I expected to score on that play,” Rivera said. “I made something out of nothing. I’m grateful for my teammates for making the blocks.”
Rivera punctuated his effort with a 42-yard run with under three minutes to play, cutting right and then to his left before sprinting down the sideline.
Among the defensive highlights, Grady Kelly recorded his 16th sack of the season while Huston recovered a first-half fumble near the goal line.
Navarre bolstered its hopes for an eighth consecutive playoff berth with the win. But it faces a quick turnaround against Crestview Friday night at Bennett C. Russell Stadium. The Bulldogs beat Lincoln 39-17 Monday.
Another must-win game is on the horizon.
“It’s a big district game against Crestview, a big rival,” Walls said. “It’s senior night and our last regular-season game. There’s a lot on the line. A lot to play for.”
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