Raiders get their payback after losing to the Dolphins in last year's championship meeting.
GULF BREEZE — Josh Carter stood at midfield, holding the Navarre Raiders flag, its base planted in the fin of the Gulf Breeze Dolphins logo.
It wasn’t intentional. It’s just where Carter happened to be standing when reporters caught up with him after the game.
But it was certainly symbolic.
A year ago, Carter watched as the Dolphins celebrated a District 2-6A championship after beating the Raiders, 31-28, at Bennett C. Russell Stadium.
Friday night at Dolphins Stadium, it was time for some payback.
Carter engineered the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter and then he and his defensive teammates stood strong on a final attempt by Gulf Breeze to pull out a 29-23 win to capture the District 2-6A title.
“Immediately after the game, I remembered that feeling they gave us last year,” Carter said. “Everybody rushing the field, and we had to get to payback. I was thinking about it all week, all game. I knew we had the game plan to get it done.”
Like last year’s game at Navarre, this one came down to the wire, with Gulf Breeze having one last chance to pull out the victory.
But Carter came up with a big sack on the final possession and Dante Wright dealt the final blow by picking off Dylon Kelly’s pass with 9.7 seconds left to preserve the victory.
“I couldn’t feel better,” Wright said. “It’s an amazing feeling. Wow. We played well. We executed very well. The defense played very good.”
The game lived up to the hype, with it being a back-and-forth battle throughout.
Gulf Breeze jumped out to the early lead in the contest, taking advantage of a Navarre interception on the second play of the game for a 7-0 lead on a 8-yard touchdown run by Jake Weldon.
The Dolphins held that lead until early in the second quarter when both offenses started to hit their stride.
Navarre tied the game with a 6-yard touchdown run by Sage Chambers, and the Raiders took a 14-7 lead with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Chambers to Wright.
Gulf Breeze didn’t waste any time coming back as Tyler Dittmer showed why he’s one of the top running backs in the Panhandle, taking the handoff and slicing his way through the Navarre defense for a 54-yard touchdown run.
Just a matter of minutes later, Navarre went back up 21-14 with a 62-yard touchdown pass from Chambers to Sam Register. The score remained that way into the half.
Gulf Breeze came out in the second half and seized the momentum immediately, getting a 53-yard touchdown run by Dittmer (25-172, 2 TDs) to pull within 21-20 after the failed point-after kick.
Navarre turned it over on its next possession, and Gulf Breeze drove down into the Raiders’ red zone, but the Navarre defense stiffened and held Gulf Breeze to a field goal and the Dolphins led 23-21.
The Raiders turned to Carter in the fourth quarter, breaking out the Big Cat formation. Carter responded with a 22-yard run on third-and-one and added a 42-yard run to set up a 7-yard touchdown run by Wright to give the Raiders a 29-23 lead after Wright ran in the 2-point conversion.
Carter actually led the Raiders’ rushing attack with 108 yards on 8 carries.
Gulf Breeze had a couple of drives into Navarre territory down the stretch, but Navarre’s defense repeatedly made plays to keep them out of the end zone.
“I thought we played outstanding defense the second half,” Navarre coach Jay Walls said. “I’m proud of our kids for just playing four quarters. We had a lead at halftime, but they came out, made a great play and got the momentum.
“Our defense did a great job. Gulf Breeze had great field position and we made a big stop and held them to a field goal. Our kids played hard, I’m proud of them.”