Raiders’ perfect season leads to quarterfinals

Posted on November 7, 2015 by Bart Steele

For the first time in school history the Navarre Raiders (10-0, 3-0) closed out a regular season with ten straight wins, beating rival Niceville 35-13 in Friday’s non-conference game at Bennett C. Russell Stadium.

Navarre head coach Jay Walls said he was thrilled with the outcome. “It’s a great way to finish the season,” he said, “going 10-0 especially.”

The stadium was packed with an estimated 1,000 fans ready to soak up both the heavy humidity and the hotly-anticipated matchup between the two state contenders. The Niceville section roared just three plays into the game when Eagles WR Eli Stove landed a 70-yard touchdown reception to light the first points on the board. But that burst of momentum was fleeting; for the rest of the game the Eagles stayed mostly grounded, challenged by a plucky and defiant Raiders defense.

“We got a lot of pressure on the quarterback,” Walls said. “They’ve got some big play guys and they are explosive on offense.” One such eruption saw Eagle Deonte Sheffield in the end zone after completing Tyler Russell’s eight-yard pass. Sheffield’s touchdown was Niceville’s last in the game, bringing the score to 13-7 midway through the second quarter.

That was before Raider Caine Adamson bolted 52 yards to hand Navarre a lead of 14-13. “We ran the ball well,” Walls said, “and we thought that was going to be a big key.” The game-defining moment, which Walls described as a “huge momentum swing,” arrived quite unexpectedly as Raider Xavier Fernandez burst through the Niceville line, blocked the Eagles’ punt inside their own 10-yard line, and fell on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. Navarre fans, and Walls, were clearly elated. 

The Raiders, up 35-13 by the close of the third quarter, clipped the Eagles’ wings to a mere 145 yards of total offense. That thrust, and score, held as Navarre earned its first perfect regular season. “The credit goes to the kids and my staff,” Walls said. “They’ve worked hard since January.”

Navarre will host the Tate Aggies (7-2, 2-1) in the Region 1-6A quarterfinal on Friday.