Milton – Seconds after Navarre shored up a 20-12 win over Milton Friday night, a program-record 10th straight to punch its ticket to the Region 1A finals, Andrew Rieves walked along the left sideline in somewhat of a daze.
The Raider senior quarterback had done it all, throwing for 156 yards and racking up two touchdowns – a 5-yard keeper and an 11-yard strike to Clemson commitment Jordan Leggett. And in that moment, just seconds after joining his teammates along the visitor’s sideline for their traditional singing of the Raider fight song, he looked untouchable.
“This is crazy,” he said. “I’ve never played in this kind of environment as a part of the class of 2013. We just took it as a challenge and embraced it.”
It will be the second regional championship trip in three years for the 11-1 Raiders, who will host Columbia next Friday as they bid for the program’s first state semifinal appearance ever.
And the Raiders, who haven’t lost since Sept. 7’s 25-24 setback at Pensacola, enter with momentum on both sides of the ball after Friday’s euphoric win.
Defensively, the Raiders racked up five sacks, blocked a punt, held the Panthers to 86 rushing yards and forced three turnovers, two of which came on interceptions from Elijah Appel and the final a fumble recovery by Mason Mikul in the waning minutes to seal the win.
“We have such a great defense and it’s such a confidence booster for us,” said Leggett, who hauled in five catches for 84 yards.
Offensively, it wasn’t pretty for the Raiders, who mustered only seven first-half points.
But in a decisive third quarter, Rieves and Leggett connected for an 11-yard score to give the Raiders a 14-12 lead and Rieves later tacked on a 5-yard run to paydirt.
“The offense did what we had to do to win,” Leggett said.
Overall, Rieves completed 8 of 12 passes for 156 and Gatlin Casey hauled in three catches for 72 yards. Jay Warren was held to 69 yards rushing, and Johnny Robinson provided the lone offensive highlight for the Raiders of the first half with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Christian Gill.
In the early going, points were at a premium. And that made mistakes all the harder to swallow.
And for Milton, who outgained the Raiders 199-114 in the opening 24 minutes, a drop to start the game loomed large.
Florida State Commitment Isaiah Jones dropped a would-be, 61-yard touchdown reception on the game’s first play, and Navarre would later capitalize on the hiccup with an Appel interception in the back right corner of the end zone.
The Raiders, though, would repay the favor on a fumbled snap, and Milton would scratch the scoreboard first with an Andre Flakes 3-yard touchdown run with 3:25 left in the first quarter.
Rising through adversity, Navarre answered immediately. Driving 80 yards in 10 plays, the bulk of which came on a 47-yard connection between Rieves and Leggett, the Raiders reached into their bag of tricks facing a fourth-and-goal at the 3 yard line. After a pair of stuffed runs from Warren, Robinson-Pettus took a handoff, moved slightly forward and then elevated, tossing a 3-yard touchdown to a wide-open Christian Gill for the score early in the second quarter.
Milton, though, would have a response late in the half.
Needing only eight plays to march 76 yards, Milton received a 4-yard touchdown run from Roy Wise to take a 12-7 halftime lead.