NAVARRE – Some football coaches will pay lip service to special teams play.
“It’s one-third of the game,” they’ll say, while spending only 5% of their practice time on it.
Such is not the case for Navarre coach Jay Walls.
For him, special teams is as important as offense and defense, and he preaches it week in and week out to his Raiders.
Friday night at Bennett C. Russell Stadium, Walls appeared prophetic.
Trailing a game Choctaw team 17-14 at the half, the Raiders (3-0) got a big blocked punt and return for a touchdown in the third quarter and added another blocked punt and TD in the fourth quarter to pull away for a 41-24 win.
“That’s one of the biggest plays in football,” Walls said of the blocked punt. “It gave us some momentum on those two plays and we scored on defense. It was a big momentum swing.
“We’re real aggressive and we had made some adjustments from the first half and it worked out for us. But we’re always real aggressive and try to put pressure on the punter.”
The first blocked punt came shortly after the Indians had rallied from a 14-0 deficit to take a 17-14 lead into the half. On their first possession of the second half, they tried to line up for a quick kick near midfield, but Nolan Garrett read it perfectly and was able to get in untouched to block the kick.
Josh Carter scooped up the loose ball, broke a few tackles and raced 35 yards down the sideline to give Navarre a lead it would not relinquish.
“Special teams, to me, is the most important part of the game,” Garrett said. “It can decide who wins the game. In this case, the blocked kick gave us the momentum and both blocked kicks led to touchdowns.
“We saw on film that they liked to do a lot of quick kicks out of trips, so we had a gameplan and we went after it.”
The second blocked kick came with the Raiders leading 34-17 in the fourth quarter. Once again, quarterback Brady Ooten tried a quick kick and this time it was Alex Gilchrist who broke through for the block.
The ball sailed all the way into the endzone and it was a foot race between Gilchrist and Carter, with Carter being able to fall on the ball for his second TD of the game.
“Honestly, I just listened to Nolan,” Gilchrist said. “He told me that they leave a little gap and I saw an opening and went after it.
“I thought I was going to get to it (the loose ball), but Josh got there a little bit before me. It’s a team thing and I’m just happy one of us got it to make it six points instead of two.”
The special teams play helped the Raiders overcome a gritty effort from the Indians. Ooten hit on 12-of-23 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns.
“Choctaw was a good team and we knew they were better than their record,” Walls said. “We knew we’d have to play a full game to beat them. Special teams was big for us and our offense got going there.
“Defense, we gave up the one big play in the second half, so I was proud of the way our defense played in that second half.”
Sage Chambers matched Ooten with three TD passes, completing 10-of-17 passes for 172 yards. Omari Green led the Raiders on the ground with 150 yards and a score on 17 carries.
Dante Wright had a big night with 44 yards rushing and 86 receiving.