"We came up with some big plays, some big plays on defense. I thought our defense played well against a good offensive rushing team.”
NAVARRE — It’s something about the district opener that brings out the best in everyone.
Friday night at Bennett C. Russell Stadium for the District 2-6A opener, it brought out the best in both the homestanding Raiders and visiting Pace Patriots.
In a game that went down to the wire, the Raiders overcame sloppy field conditions and an excellent personal performance from Pace tailback Damean Bivins to pull out a big 49-35 win.
Bivins ran for 192 yards and three touchdowns on 41 carries, but the Raiders countered with another explosive performance from Dante Wright and the steady running of Chris Williams and Omari Green to pull out the victory.
Wright had 106 yards on four carries and returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown for the unbeaten Raiders. Williams added 116 yards and a score on the ground and Green finished with a team-high 138 yards and two touchdowns.
“Early on, I thought they had the momentum,” Navarre coach Jay Walls said. “We had the bad snap and the safety, with the rain coming on out of nowhere, Pace played hard and had a lot of momentum.
“I was proud of the way our guys responded, later in the first half and the second quarter. We came up with some big plays, some big plays on defense. I thought our defense played well against a good offensive rushing team.”
After a wet-and-wild first half in which the Raiders took a 35-21 lead, the Patriots cut the lead to 35-28 early in the third quarter to set off the shootout.
The Raiders came right back and got a 67-yard touchdown run by Green to go back up by 14 points.
When Bivins left the game with cramps, it appeared the Raiders were ready to salt the victory away, but Bivins returned to the field and led the Patriots on a scoring drive to cut the lead back to 42-35.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Patriots went for the onside kick, but Navarre recovered it. And a few plays later, Wright put the game away with his third touchdown of the game, this one on a 21-yard jet sweep to put Navarre ahead 49-35.
Pace had one last chance, but Navarre’s Matthew Downey picked off a Kason Lincke pass at the Raiders’ 5-yard line to preserve the victory. Navarre improved to 5-0 overall and 1-0 in district with the win.
The first half was a wild and wet one, featuring everything from a fumbled snap that traveled nearly half the field for a safety to two muffed kicks deep inside their respective territory.
It opened with sparks as Wright took the handoff from Sage Chambers on the Raiders’ first play from scrimmage and was off to the races. Eighty yards later, the Raiders held a 7-0 lead over the Patriots.
Pace came right back, however, and turned to their workhorse Bivins, who carried the ball seven times for 38 yards to cut the Raiders' lead to 7-6 on a 2-yard TD run.
Just as Pace was set to kick off, the clouds opened and the rain started to pour. Pace’s onside kick attempt went out of bounds, giving the Raiders the ball in prime field position.
But the first play after the kickoff, with the rain coming down harder, the snap from center went over Chambers' head. As the Raiders tried to corral the loose ball, it squirted out of their hands and kept rolling until it landed in the endzone, where a Navarre player covered it to give the Patriots a safety and an 8-7 lead.
The Patriots got the ball back on the free kick and drove 59 yards in eight plays to take a 14-7 lead on a 5-yard run by Bivins.
All that seemed to do was wake up Navarre, as on the ensuing possession the Raiders drove down and tied the game at 14-14 on a Chambers 4-yard touchdown run.
The Raiders defense forced another three-and-out on Pace’s next possession and immediately went to work as Green went through the heart of the Pace defense 60 yards for the touchdown and a 21-14 lead.
On the ensuing Pace possession, the Raiders forced another Patriots punt. Wright was back deep for the Raiders, and hauled in the booming kick at his own 25-yard line, made a man miss and then cut back across the middle of the field, going from the Pace sideline to Navarre’s en route to a 75-yard punt return for touchdown and a 28-14 lead.
Pace refused to go away, though, and the Patriots mounted a scoring drive to cut the lead to 28-21 on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Kason Lincke to Aidan Gilroy, as Gilroy snuck behind the Raiders defense for an easy pitch-and-catch TD pass.
Navarre came right back and got the 14-point lead again on a 10-yard touchdown run by Chris Williams. Williams’ TD came right after he went 54 yards up the middle to get down to the 10-yard line.