PENSACOLA — Navarre’s defense hasn’t spent much time with its back against the goal line this season.
Now it has a frame of reference for when it happens again.
Three times the Raiders were backed up into the shadows of their own end zone and three times the defense held the line to keep the Pine Forest Eagles off the scoreboard.
Combine that with a magnificent night from the duo of quarterback Sage Chambers and receiver Dante Wright and it all adds up to a big road victory as the Raiders (4-0) traveled to Lon Wise Stadium to knock off the previously unbeaten Pine Forest Eagles by a 27-14 score.
“In the red zone, we really coach that and preach that,” Navarre coach Jay Walls said. “Get touchdowns in the red zone and get stops in the red zone, we really preach that. And our defense did a good job of that.
“Especially, I don’t know the down and distance, but it was fourth-and-short and it ended up being a stop by a foot on the goal line. That was a big play, big momentum shift.”
The Raiders’ first big goal line stop came after Navarre had taken a 7-0 lead on its opening possession of the game when Chambers hit Wright for a 65-yard touchdown strike.
Pine Forest (2-1) drove down and faced a fourth-and-3 at the Raiders’ 8-yard line. The Eagles went for it and quarterback Cal West was flushed out of the pocket and stopped a yard short of the first down marker.
The Raiders got another big stop later in the half when the Eagles drove into the red zone, but the drive stalled when Navarre came up with consecutive big stops to bring up a fourth down. The Eagles had to settle for a field goal attempt, which was short to preserve the 7-0 lead.
With the renewed confidence from the defensive stops, the Raiders offense went back to work and so did Chambers and Wright. Chambers hit Wright on a perfectly placed corner route from 10 yards to go up 14-0.
“We knew the defense we were going to get, we knew they were going to play man on us all night,” said Chambers, who completed 9-of-20 passes for 184 yards and three TDs, all of them to Wright. “I have a connection with everybody, we try to work on spreading it around, and tonight it was Dante. I have that kind of confidence with everybody on our team. It’s just a good thing to have that many weapons.”
Wright finished the night with seven catches for 167 yards and three touchdowns. Chris Williams led the Raiders on the ground with 89 yards on 20 carries as the Raiders maintained a balanced attack.
“I think we did a good job of protecting our quarterback,” Walls said. “Our pass protection was good and we were able to throw the football. And we had some success running the ball again.
“I’m just proud of our kids for coming on the road (and winning). Pine Forest is the best team we have faced so far.”
The Eagles rallied from the 14-0 deficit with a 92-yard kickoff return by Anwar Lewis, but the Raiders extended the lead back to 21-7 with a 25-yard TD strike from Chambers to Wright.
Pine Forest refused to go away, though, and was able to cut that lead to 21-14 after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Raiders kept a drive alive. Two plays later, the Eagles got in the end zone on an 8-yard run by Lewis.
Navarre’s defense got another big stop on a fourth-down in the fourth quarter, and that helped set up a 5-yard TD run by Chambers to push the lead to 27-14.
“They were very athletic, they were the best team we’ve played this year,” linebacker Cade Taylor said. “We knew we would have to come up with some big defensive stops. We knew defensively, we had to step up. We were just preaching it to the defense all week.
“We practice that (red zone defense) every day. We have a goal line stand period. We preach it every day in practice. We just need to make plays on the goal line, that’s a big momentum shift. My dad is the defensive coordinator (Greg Taylor) and he made all the right calls tonight. He put us in a position to make the plays.”