Navarre extends win streak to 5

Posted on October 16, 2022 by Stuart Camp


Eddie Love Jr. tears out of the grasp of Milton linebacker Cameron Mcallister on a night where the sophomore ball carrier from the 1,000-yard mark. (Photo by Stuart Camp)

Navarre outlasted the Milton Panthers, 34-27, to record their fifth straight win Friday in Russell Stadium.

The Raiders are now 2-0 in 4S-1 district play, tied with Gulf Breeze atop the standings, and 6-1 overall. Their next two games – Pace next week, then the Dolphins — will decide who claims the district title and guarantees a regional playoff berth.

Milton (2-5) drops out of contention, but they certainly made things interesting Friday. They owned a 13-12 advantage at halftime – courtesy of some unsuccessful post-touchdown attempts – and held their own offensively and defensively against the Raiders.

“The first half was back-and-forth. I am proud of our kids for persevering and staying in there,” Raider helmsman Jay Walls said. “We got the mo (momentum) with the kickoff return. Defensively we came up with two big turnovers. Offensively, we did some great things running the ball. A great second half, and that was the difference.”

Three key plays turned the tide for the Raiders. Terence Marshall’s second-half kickoff return for a touchdown sparked a 22-point reprisal, reversing the one-point halftime deficit. And then there were a pair of defensive takeaways to steal the Panthers’ momentum. Trey Bragg intercepted an off-the-mark pass late in the first quarter to halt a red-zone threat. Linebacker Dwayne Clark Jr. ripped the ball away from Panther running back Jwilliam Grimsley at midfield just before the end of the third quarter. Both resulted in Navarre scores and a cushion to absorb Milton’s late touchdown.

Dwayne Clark Jr. ripped away the momentum from the Milton Panthers on a force fumble and recovery in the waning seconds of the third quarter. (Photo by Stuart Camp)

“The turnover really hurt us … at the end,” Panthers head coach Kelly Gillis said. “I thought we did a really good job in the passing game when we needed to, converting a lot of third-and-longs.”

Navarre returned to its winning ways against Milton. A 18-13 loss last year broke a 10-game winning streak going back to 2009. The Raiders own a 13-5 record over the Panthers going back to 2004.

In this year’s matchup, Raider quarterback Hunter Pfeister threw for nearly 200 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another. The running attack rolled up more than 230 yards on the ground, too.

“I think our guys dug deep and went to the next level in the second half,” Pfeister said. “Our run really capitalized on the pass. The pass (game) was working … but we can count on the running backs to get their job done.”

Eddie Love Jr. appeared to break 1,000 rushing yards for the season on a sweep around the left side in the second half. He had seven carries, over 100 yards, and a touchdown in the first half. However, an injury in that first stanza limited his carries going into halftime and afterward.  Anthony Gassaway picked up ball-carrying duties, getting his own two-yard touchdown plunge in the early part of the fourth quarter for a 34-20 lead.

Neither team required much work from their punters.

“In the first half, we underestimated them a bit,” said Navarre defensive back Connor Black. “The second half, we put our heads down and got to it. Overall, we came out with the dub (win) in a team effort.”

The Raider defense didn’t allow any quick strikes, forcing the Panthers to grind away and whittle away the clock. A prime example was Milton’s final drive, it ate up nearly four minutes to traverse 67-yards, leaving too little time to threaten Navarre’s lead.

“We had an idea of the coverages we’d see. They did a good job disguising (them),” said Panther quarterback Emory Williams. “I really did have all day (in the pocket). It was my fault we didn’t execute better.”

Pace comes to Navarre this Friday; kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. The Raiders are on a undefeated streak against the Patriots going back to 2012. Last year’s 41-34 victory was the closest final score over that same span – most finishing with double-digit spreads.