NAVARRE - With a District 2-6A crown long behind Navarre and Nov. 16’s region quarterfinal matchup against Pace looming, Friday’s regular-season finale against Gulf Breeze on Friday carried little significance on the surface.
But despite not catering to the big-picture implications, Navarre wasn’t about to watch its seven-game win streak go by the wayside. Not on Senior Night. And especially not against a rival.
Matthew Webb and Gatlin Casey connected on a pair of touchdowns, Johnny Robinson-Pettus had two rushing scores and Navarre (9-1) overcame five turnovers to pull off the 28-14 Beach Bowl Cup victory.
“We wanted to keep the momentum going into the playoffs and this was a big game with the rivalry and Senior Night,” Navarre coach Jay Walls said.
It was the eighth straight win for Navarre and sixth in a row against Gulf Breeze (7-3), which had its four-game win streak snapped headed into next week in a 5A regional matchup at top-ranked Wakulla.
The Raiders, meanwhile, have that coveted momentum on their side headed into Friday’s region quarterfinal matchup at home against Pace, an opponent they defeated 19-13 earlier in the year.
Displaying the same in-your-jersey, sure-tackling defense that’s limited opponents to 14 points per game, Navarre held the electric Andrew Creech and a high-scoring Gulf Breeze offense in check.
Averaging 19 points a contest, the Dolphins mustered just 159 yards of offense – a large chunk of which came on a junk-time 68-yard touchdown pass from backup Gray Doresey to Xan Sarra in the waning minutes -- and were held to an 1-for-11 conversion rate on third down and an 0-for-3 rate on fourth down. Creech, who entered the contest piling up nearly 200 total yards a game, completed just 8 of 21 passes for 55 yards and threw for two of the Dolphins’ three interceptions– Mikul Smith had one, Nick Benton hauled in other two. In the backfield, the Dolphins gained just 36 yards on 23 carries.
“The thing that stands out is how well our defense played,” Walls said.
Meanwhile, Navarre just needed some time to find its rhythm on offense after committing five first-half turnovers.
Taking over for Andrew Rieves, who had an MCL sprain but will be ready to start next week, Webb threw for 182 yards and connected with Casey for scores of 68 and 55 yards in his first start under center.
“He did some good things and also showed a little sophomore-itis with a few mistakes, but overall it was a great effort by the young man,” Walls said.
The 68-yarder came in a tightly-contested first half where both teams entered the locker room tied at 7, and the 55-yarder opened up the floodgates in the second half.
“I’m proud of our kids because I think we had five turnovers in the first half and they still kept their poise,” Walls said. “We went in at halftime and I talked to them and they came out and made big plays.”
One of the big plays was an 81-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter up the right sideline from Pettus, who later tacked on a 1-yard score.
“Johnny always goes at 100 percent and it showed right there,” Walls said.
Early on, though, it was all defense.
Despite outgaining the Dolphins by 119 yards (178-59), Navarre lost four fumbles and Matt Webb ended a potential scoring drive to end the half with an interception.
One of the fumbles occurred inside the Eagles’ 5-yard line, leading to a Austin Dermody 3-yard score halfway through the first quarter to give the Dolphins a 7-0 lead. But that would prove to be the lone offensive breakthrough for the Dolphins, who mustered just two first downs and were held 0 for 6 on third-down conversion in the opening 24 minutes of play.