NAVARRE – There just weren’t any stones left in David’s sling.
Facing its second straight Goliath after upsetting fifth-ranked Columbia last week en route to the program’s first region title, Navarre fell victim to three first-half turnovers and never rebounded from a 28-0 halftime deficit on its way to a 62-26 loss to top-ranked Gainesville in the Class 6A semifinal Friday night.
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“Mistakes early,” Navarre first year head coach Jay Walls said. “They had a lot of momentum and they’re an outstanding football team. To give them the momentum, they’re going to make you pay.”
The loss snapped a program-record 11-game win streak for the Raiders (12-2), who entered the contest with a 7-0 home mark.
Gainesville, meanwhile, improved to 14-0 and will look for its first title in 32 years with a championship matchup against Miami Central next Saturday in Orlando.
Entering the contest allowing less than 17 points per game on the strength of holding each one of its first 13 opponents below its scoring average, Navarre’s defense just couldn’t contain a Gainesville offense averaging 403 yards per game and nearly 40 points per contest.
Under center, Mark Cato threw for 217 yards and four scores – three to Case Harrison, who hauled in 75 yards on five catches. Running back Raphael Webb led a backfield that gained 232 yards with 159 yards and three scores, and Tony James added 63 yards and a score.
Jay Warren nearly matched the Hurricanes’ backfield by himself, rushing for 214 yards and three second-half scores, and Navarre quarterback Andrew Rieves added a rushing touchdown, which cut the lead to 41-26 early in the fourth quarter. But the late offensive surge fell short against a team ranked 16th nationally by ESPN and 25th by MaxPreps.
“Our offense came out and did some good things in the second half, but again mistakes (hurt us),” Walls said.
The mistakes piled up in the first half against a sure-tackling, hard-nosed Hurricanes defense.
The Hurricanes entered Friday night allowing just 11.5 points per game and forcing more than two turnovers per games, and their penchant for producing takeaways is what got their offense started.
The first turnover took place on a strip of Warren, who took a handoff 31 yards to the Hurricanes’ 18 but lost the ball for a touchback.
The Hurricanes took the momentum and drove 80 yards in nine plays, the final a James 14-yard run to stake the visitors to a 7-0 lead.
Just eight seconds later, the Hurricanes would capitalize on another Raider turnover. But this one was self-inflicted.
On the opening play of Navarre’s ensuing drive, a high snap sailed over the head of Rieves and into the end zone and was covered up by Alex Gonzales.
To add to the comedy of errors, on the next two Raider drives Rieves threw an interception and Jordan Leggett couldn’t field a low punt and was tackled on fourth down at Navarre’s 15. That led to a 3-yard score by Webb, who’d later tack on a 4-yard score to push the lead to 28-0 at halftime.
Out of the locker room, Warren would score on the opening three drives with touchdown runs of 10, 40 and 37 yards, but Gainesville answered the first two scores as the lead wouldn’t drop below 20 until Rieves’ touchdown. And that was followed by two Harrison touchdown receptions and a Webb 33-yard score that put the game well out of reach.
Navarre finishes the season at 12-2 after advancing to the first state semi in school history.