Ethan Newman (holding trophy) and the Raiders celebrate the return of the Publix Beach Bowl Cup after their 28-24 victory in Gulf Breeze. (Photo by Stuart Camp)
The Navarre Raiders claimed three wins in Friday night’s 28-24 victory in Gulf Breeze.
First, and foremost, there’s the Publix Beach Bowl Cup travelling trophy. Secondly, they’re the class 4S district 1 champions. And third, the game was the feature matchup on Friday Night Rivals television broadcast.
Raider head coach Jay Walls said, “We’re going to enjoy this one.”
The district title guarantees them a berth in the playoffs, but where they seed remains undetermined. Gulf Breeze’s playoff chances took a hit, but they’re not mathematically out at this juncture.
In the 2022 edition of the Beach Bowl, it became a second-half shootout with Navarre outscoring the host club 21-7 to secure the win. Defensively, the Raiders got three important stops down the stretch to stall the Dolphins.
“Gulf Breeze wasn’t going away, they weren’t going to quit,” Walls said. “So, it came down to fourth down, and we made a big play there. We got pressure on the quarterback and broke it up and forced that pass that may have been a little off.”
Gulf Breeze was driving with a chance to retake the lead inside the last two minutes of the game. On fourth and eight with 1:47 on the clock, Raider defensive back Connor Black batted away a pass intended for Kohen Kember at the Navarre 11-yard line, which would’ve given the Dolphins four shots to score from deep inside the red zone.
“We were knocking on the door. If the quarterback had a clean pocket and spins the ball out, we’ve got two receivers wide open,” Dolphin head coach Bobby Clayton said. “They (Navarre) got him off his spot, and kudos for a good call from them.”
With the change of possession, the Raiders were able to run out the clock.
However, these theatrics began developing when the Raider offense awoke midway into the third quarter.
Gulf Breeze walked into halftime with 10-7 lead after Cade Lombardo booted a 46-yard field goal. Then the Dolphins got huge, 60-yard kickoff return by Bryson Rouillier to start their first drive of the second half at the Navarre 31. Three Troy Coughlin runs — concluded by an 11-yard blast up middle — and Gulf Breeze opened up 17-7 lead.
Then Navarre’s running attack gained traction, which afforded passing-game opportunities.
“We got the running game going in the second half, and that’s what really capitalized our offense because running the ball is a key deal,” Raiders quarterback Hunter Pfiester said. “Being able to run and throw the ball is very lethal.”
This included a huge night for Terence Marshall. Pfiester completed nine passes to the junior wideout for more than 180 yards, according to initial statistics. That included a 52-yard scoring strike in the second half. Pfiester rolled out to his left then hit Terence Marshall sprinting down left sideline. The ball threaded between Gulf Breeze cornerback Lumpy Deweese’s outstretched arms around the 20-yard line, and Marshall walked into the end zone. One play, one pass. TD. The score was 17-14 with Gulf Breeze ahead, but Navarre was rolling.
“We did a decent job stopping the run. We didn’t think we’d lose until the clock struck zero,” Dolphin defender Grayson Bernicken said. “They hit us in spots where we weren’t at. They made the plays.”
As time expired in the third quarter, Pfiester threw a 28-yard strike to Jadon Reese – who bulldozed through two tackles from the 10-yard line and found pay dirt – to cap a five-play, 56-yard drive. Navarre took its first lead of the game, 21-17.
It was short-lived. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Gulf Breeze quarterback Battle Alberson hit Bryson Rouillier in stride on a fly pattern down the home-team sideline for a 74-yard touchdown. With the successful PAT, the Dolphins were up by three.
The clock showed 7:18 left in regulation when the Raiders got the game-winning score. Their 11-play drive –calling nine running and two passing plays — moved the ball 68-yards for the touchdown. Running back Connor Mathews got the call, and he took the ball into the end zone from four yards out.
“We stuck with our game plan. It wasn’t anything crazy that we had to draw up in the dirt. Our kids just kept playing, and it took a team effort,” Walls said. “The biggest thing that stands out to me is we got down the field running the football. We had some throws in there to extend the drive, but I thought running the ball, with the (offensive line) controlling the line of scrimmage, was the key there.”
The Raiders have at least two games left in the 2022 season. They face Niceville (8-1, 4-0 in 4S district 2) at 7:30 p.m. in Russell Stadium in the final battle of the regular season.
Niceville is fresh off a 28-21 home-field victory over Mosley. Navarre went to Mosley Oct. 6 and returned victorious, 38-35. Although the Raiders own an 8-4 advantage over the Eagles in the head-to-head series, Niceville decisively claimed the last two meetings by outscoring Navarre 51-16. The Raiders’ last win came in 2018 with a 38-13 blowout fueled by Marlon Courtney III and Dante Wright accounting for three touchdowns. That night, the defense held Niceville to just 236 yards of offense.
The Dolphins, now 5-4 in 2022, have the West Florida Jaguars (6-2) visiting this week. The Jags defeated Pensacola Catholic on Friday, 38-14. West Florida is undefeated against Gulf Breeze in their last 10 meetings, including a 14-13 scrape in 2021. Their game is slated for a 7:30 p.m. start in Dolphin Stadium.