Dante Wright is one of the best receivers in the area. He’s not bad at catching passes from the opposing quarterback either.
The versatile senior athlete came up with three interceptions Friday night, returning one for a touchdown, helping Navarre make a statement in its Region 1-6A playoff opener against Pace behind an impressive defensive effort.
The Raiders never let up and slowed the Patriots to a crawl in a 38-6 win on a chilly and windy evening at Bennett C. Russell Stadium.
Known for their rushing attack, especially with Damean Bivens in the backfield, Pace opted to throw a little more than usual. Wright made them pay.
“They just threw it my way and I was really capitalizing on it,” Wright said.
Wright’s first pick was worthy of the highlight reel. He stepped in front of a pass on the far sideline near the 30, cut across the field and basically walked into the end zone for a score that put the Raiders on top 10-0 with 6:07 left in the first quarter.
Wright also picked off passes late in the second and third quarters while adding a 39-yard touchdown run off a reverse that extended Navarre’s lead to 31-0 with 8:30 left.
“He keeps making big plays,” Navarre head coach Jay Walls said. “He has a lot of help. It’s a team effort and he’s a team guy. He really is. He loves playing ball.”
Cameron Thomas also snagged an interception, ending Pace’s hope for a touchdown on its first drive of the second half.
That led to a 33-yard touchdown run by Chris Williams, who cut to the outside and ran down the left sideline for the score, pointing to the sky in honor of The Flash, also known as former teammate Darnell Deas, who died by suicide this summer. Williams has dedicated this season to his fallen friend.
The Raiders forced five turnovers in all, including a recovered fumble by Xayvion Thomas.
This Navarre team looked much different than the one that beat Pace 49-30 back in September.
“We felt good about our game plan for them,” Thomas said.
Navarre (10-1) came in riding the high of a three-game win streak to close the regular season.
The Raiders entered the postseason ranked sixth in the state and as the No. 1 seed in the region. Pace (7-4) was the eighth seed and making its first playoff trip since 2013.
Kevin Taich gave Navarre an early 3-0 lead with a 25-yard field goal on a night when the offense missed on some opportunities to put more points on the board.
Tyler England was wide open on a 44-yard scoring strike, giving the Raiders a 17-0 lead after one quarter. Garon Finley punched it into the end zone on a 3-yard keeper late in the fourth.
Pace scored a touchdown in the closing second. By then, the Raiders had most of their third-string players in.
Marlon Courtney topped 2,000 passing yards for the season, the first time since 2014 that has been done at Navarre.
It’s the fourth consecutive week in which Navarre has allowed 13 points or less.
The Raiders held Bivens to a little over 100 yards. Bivens entered the night with more than 2,100 and put forth a valiant effort in defeat.
“There are all kinds of ways to win, and we won tonight with great D, a solid kicking game and we had some big plays on offense,” Walls said.
A second-round matchup with Escambia awaits the Raiders, who suffered their only loss of the season to the Gators by a 37-27 score. Escambia defeated St. Augustine 36-16 on the road Friday night.
That first meeting with the Gators was on the road. This 7:30 p.m. showdown will be at home. A trip to the regional championship game is on the line against either Pine Forest or Crestview.
Walls talked to his team after the game about payback and how that should add fuel to the fire of a Raiders team that is already one of the most special in school history and on a mission to be a state champion.
“It’s going to be a good game, a good rematch. We’ll have a good game plan against them,” Wright said.