Josh Carter held the Navarre flag in his hand, the same flag he had planted in the middle of Dolphin Stadium after the 10th-ranked Raiders held on for a riveting 29-23 win over rival Gulf Breeze Friday night in front of a standing-room only crowd.
He was happy. So were his teammates. The fans were thrilled as well, storming the field to celebrate a win that avenged last year’s devastating three-point loss.
Gulf Breeze danced on the logo in Navarre a year ago after a 31-28 win. On this cool October night, the exhilarating victory was sweet revenge.
“I remember that feeling they gave us last year. We had to get payback,” Carter said. “I’m thinking the whole entire game, throughout the whole week, planning to do this because I knew coming into the game we had a game plan that was good enough to win the football game.”
The Raiders took their flag with them back to Navarre. They also took the Beach Bowl Trophy, the District 2-6A championship and their guaranteed spot in the postseason home.
In a rivalry game where the hype was lived up to, on a night when both teams left everything they had on the field, the Raiders (7-1, 3-0) leaned on their defense to seal the deal on their 16th consecutive road win.
Twice in the final four minutes, the Raiders had to come up with crucial stops. Both times they did, be it with a hard hit, a ferocious tackle, a deflected pass, or ultimately, an interception by Dante Wright in the final 30 seconds of the game that secured the victory and ignited a crazy celebration.
“Dante makes plays,” Navarre head coach Jay Walls said. “Our defense made plays all night long. We needed a play like that (at the end). We needed to get the ball.”
Navarre led 21-14 at halftime but trailed 23-21 with 7:47 left in the third quarter after a 24-yard field goal by Spencer Wirth.
Carter, who also plays linebacker, set the stage for what would turn out to be the game-winning touchdown. His runs of 22 yards and 42 yards put the Raiders on the doorstep of the goal line. Wright finished the drive with a 7-yard run with 11:14 remaining. Wright’s two-point conversion run made the score 29-23.
The defense did the rest. As the final minute ticked off the clock and Gulf Breeze (6-2, 2-1) desperately tried to make something happen offensively, Kevon Washington could be seen pumping up the crowd while on the field.
The senior defensive back who moved in from Louisiana was just enjoying the moment.
“It’s a blessing,” Washington said. “We’ve worked so hard. I was pumped up. I wanted to make sure everyone was as pumped up as I was.”
Navarre tied the game at 7-7 on Sage Chambers’ 6-yard run. It took a 14-7 lead on Wright’s touchdown catch in the left corner of the end zone and led 21-14 at halftime after Sam Register’s wide-open 63-yard touchdown reception.
The Raiders have been waiting a year for this moment, and while they have a game at home with rival Niceville next week to close the regular season, they are going to enjoy this win.
“It was a heck of a game, a great rivalry and a whole lot of fun,” Walls said.