It was an eerily similar finish to the last time Gulf Breeze and Navarre squared off with a district championship on the line.
The home team making a last-minute push for the winning score. The away team making a critical, final stop, sending their jubilant fans sprawling onto the field.
In 2017, that jubilant team was the Navarre Raiders, who knocked off bitter rival Gulf Breeze 29-23 at Dolphin Stadium on Friday night to claim the District 2-6A championship.
Navarre junior Dante Wright – who scored the game-winning touchdown on a 6-yard run with 11:14 remaining – picked off Gulf Breeze quarterback Dylon Kelley with less than 30 seconds remaining to end the Dolphins’ final drive.
As quarterback Sage Chambers kneeled out the closing seconds and Navarre’s fans rushed the field, redemption was in the air as the Raiders waved their team flag at midfield.
“Immediately after the game I remembered the feeling that they gave us last year,” Navarre linebacker Josh Carter said. “Everybody rushing on the field. We had to get payback and I was thinking that through the whole game and the whole week.
“I was planning on doing this because I knew coming in we had a game plan good enough to win this football game.”
Trailing 23-21 entering the fourth quarter, Navarre (7-1, 3-0) cracked down on defense and shut out the Dolphins (7-2, 2-1) in the final quarter.
Gulf Breeze leading rusher Ty Dittmer – who entered Friday’s game with 1,588 rushing yards – was able to get his against the Raiders, finishing with 174 rushing yards and two scores.
But after his 53-yard touchdown run on the second play of the second half, Dittmer was largely held in check as the Raider defense forced two field goal attempts, one missed, and gave their offense time to get rolling.
“(Gulf Breeze) had a lot of momentum opening up the second half,” Navarre head coach Jay Walls said. “They scored first and then we turned the ball over and they got great field position. Our kids played hard and I’m proud of them.”
That game-winning drive came largely on the back of Carter, who played both ways and ran so well – finishing with 115 rushing yards – the Gulf Breeze public address once confused him for his brother Michael, who knows plays for North Carolina.
After Carter picked up 22 and 42-yard chunks to move Navarre inside the Gulf Breeze 10, Wright finished off the drive with a 7-yard run out of the Wildcat.
Their Wildcat package – known as the “Big Cat” with Carter in the game – was a secret weapon Walls held back all year specifically for this game.
“I think that helps with the diversity of our offense,” Wright said. “We can run it. We have Wildcat packages. Whatever’s not working, we throw it out and put something new in.”
With playoff scenarios becoming clearer and clearer, Friday’s loss could be even more of a heartbreaker if it costs Gulf Breeze a playoff spot.
The Dolphins entered Friday’s game with the seventh most playoff points in Region 1-8A. With only eight teams qualifying per region and No. 8 Nease winning on Friday, next week’s game at Gadsden County (3-6) becomes all the more crucial.
“We talked about that, losing always sucks, (you’re) never gonna hear a good coach say losing is okay,” Gulf Breeze head coach Bobby Clayton said. “Losing is not what you want to do in this game, obviously good lessons learned in losses.
“Get back to work, see if we can launch ourselves in playoffs. I can’t imagine us not being in the playoffs.”
Meanwhile it was a joyous ride home for the Raiders back east along U.S. Highway 98.
The win clinched Navarre’s fifth district championship in program history. Surely few have been sweeter than the one just claimed.
“Heartbreaker last year for us and they were able to storm the field,” Walls said. “It worked out for us this year and our kids were able to jump on the field.
“It’s a good rivalry and we try to make it fun and keep it where it’s clean. I think the kids are overall doing a good job with it.”
Navarre: 0 21 0 8 – 29
Gulf Breeze: 7 7 9 0 – 23
G – Jake Weldon 6-yard run, 7:15, G 7-0
N – Sage Chambers 6-yard run, 11:51 7-7
N – Chambers 11-yard pass to Dante Wright, 6:10, 14-7
G – Tyler Dittmer 55-yard run, 4:33, 14-14
N – Chambers 53-yard pass to Sam Register, 4:11, N 21-14
G – Dittmer 53-yard run, 11:03, XP no good, N 21-20
G – Spencer Wirth 24-yard field goal, G 23-21
N – Wright 7-yard run, Wright 2 point conversion, N 29-23
Thanks to the Pensacola News Journal for their article.
Article Source: Pensacola News Journal
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