NICEVILLE – With both teams assured of a playoff spot and the seedings nearly locked in regardless of Friday night’s outcome, the annual Navarre-Niceville game lacked a little pregame luster.
But there’s really no such thing as a meaningless contest when it comes to the Raiders and Eagles. So while there wasn’t any district title or playoff berth up for grabs, the game still held a huge opportunity for both teams.
And Friday night, in front of a packed house, the Raiders seized that opportunity to solidify its claim as the top seed in Region 1-6A with an emphatic 38-13 win over the Eagles.
The Raiders (9-1) dominated the first half, taking a 21-0 lead over the Eagles, before coasting in the second half to the 25-point win.
“It was a great win,” Navarre coach Jay Walls said. “It’s not easy to come over here and win. Niceville has a great program and they’re a great team. To come over here and get a win, that’s really special.”
It was the Navarre defense which set the tone early in this one, holding Niceville to only 19 yards of total offense in the first half. While the defense was flexing its muscle, the Raiders’ offensive machine was once again firing on all cylinders
The Raiders got first-half touchdowns from Marlon Courtney, Chris Williams and Dante Wright in jumping out to the surprising three-touchdown lead at the half.
“They had us on a couple of pass plays, but other than that, defensively especially in the first half, we played outstanding,” Walls said. “We were really good against the run again. They have a really good run threat with (TJ Pope) and (Jack White) and we did a great job of defending that.”
Niceville (7-3) finished the game with only 147 yards of total offense, and Navarre’s defense limited the Eagles to -25 yards on the ground.
Pope ended up with 59 yards on 19 carries with a score, but the Eagles were plagued by several long losses, a couple of them coming on fumbles deep in the backfield.
“We were fortunate to come up with some big plays tonight,” Walls said. “Both offensively and defensively, we had some big plays.”
Wright was responsible for several of those big plays, having perhaps his biggest game of the year with 221 yards on five touches. His first-half touchdown was one of those Dante Wright plays Raiders fans have come to know and love.
Wright started out on the jet sweep to the right, looking to throw it back to Marlon Courtney on the left sideline. But when the play started to break down around him, Wright took off and zigged and zagged his way through the Niceville defense for a 44-yard touchdown run.
Wright came back in the second half with touchdown catches of 66 and 80 yards, the second coming after Niceville had crawled back into the game with two touchdowns to make it 28-13. That 80-yard scoring strike from Courtney to Wright ended any threat of a Niceville comeback and allowed the Raiders to pull away with a late Kevin Taich 34-yard field goal.
“He’s been that way for a long time and it’s good to see him do it late in the season,” Walls said. “Hopefully we can keep rolling and do something in the playoffs with it, as well.”
Both teams will advance to postseason play next week with Navarre locking up the No. 1 spot. The Raiders are guaranteed to host a first-round game. Niceville will take to the road in the first round, most likely to face St. Augustine but with the possibility of traveling to rival Crestview for a rematch. The Eagles lost 63-33 to the Bulldogs two weeks ago.
The playoff pairings will be revealed by the FHSAA later this weekend.
Baker 47, Graceville 0
The Gators wrapped up a third straight undefeated regular season Friday, blasting the Tigers. Baker is 29-0 in the regular season during the past three years.
Junior McLaughlin again led a dynamic ground attack that scored five touchdowns. McLaughlin had two by himself, carrying the ball 15 times for 152 yards. He got the scoring started two minutes into the game, blocking a punt that Shawn McLeod scooped and scored.
Joe Brunson, Payton Rockwell and Garrin Mitchum also got in on the scoring action with a rushing touchdown apiece.
Northview 49, Freeport 21
Brandon Siples scored three touchdowns, but the effort wasn’t enough. Freeport finishes the regular season with a 3-5 record.