NAVARRE — Jaden Rivera led the way with 184 yards and two scores while Jaydin Antonio had 89 yards and a touchdown, as the Raiders rallied from a 14-6 halftime deficit to defeat the Lions and keep their playoff hopes alive.
"They both ran really hard," Navarre coach Jay Walls said. "They made some really big plays, a couple of times they had to create a big play for us. Our offensive line did a good job as well. I think we were pretty consistent running the football."
The Raiders (5-4 overall, 2-3 District 1-7A) started slow Monday at Gene Cox Stadium, falling behind at the half by a 14-6 margin.
That all changed in the third quarter when Tyler England came up with a big interception on Leon’s initial possession of the second half and the Raiders drove down to tie the game on a 5-yard touchdown run by Antonio and subsequent two-point conversion run by Bailey Huston.
Leon seemed to grab the momentum right back on the ensuing kickoff, returning is 92 yards for the score, but the Lions were flagged for a block-in-the-back penalty, negating the long run and putting them back in their own territory.
Navarre’s defense came up with a big stop and the Raiders went right back to work, with Rivera scoring on a 28-yard touchdown run to take a 21-14 lead.
Preston Penton tied a school record a few minutes later with a 43-yard field goal, his third field goal of the night, to put the Raiders ahead 24-14.
Leon came back and got a touchdown to make it 24-21, but Rivera put it away for good with a 42-yard touchdown run.
STAT OF THE NIGHT: 255
Rushing total for the Navarre Raiders, which paved the way on a night when the passing game struggled to get in rhythm.
The combo of Rivera and Antonio also helped the Raiders hold on to the football, keeping an explosive Leon offense off the field in the second half.
OFFENSIVE MVP: Jaden Rivera, Navarre
The talented junior tailback took over for the Raiders on Monday night, setting the tone with his 28-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to give Navarre the lead for good. And he put the icing on the cake in the fourth quarter with a 42-yard touchdown scamper to extend the Raiders lead to 10 points late in the game.
DEFENSIVE MVP: Tyler England, Navarre
The Defensive MVP could have been one of several Raider defenders Monday, as they made a big adjustment in the second half to slow down a potent Leon attack, but it was England that came up with the back-breaking interception in the third quarter.
England’s pick allowed the Raiders to get the offense on track and tie the game at 14-14 before taking the lead and ultimately the win.
Jay Walls: "Early on, they had the momentum, our kids kept playing hard and hung in there. Second half, you could tell we were getting the momentum to swing for us. Right there late in the third quarter (after England’s interception), momentum was really big for us."
The Raiders return home for a big showdown against Crestview. A win by the Raiders would most likely secure a playoff berth, while a loss would most likely eliminate them from postseason contention.
FROM THE SIDELINE
The Raiders entered Monday’s game in eighth place in the Region 1-7A RPI rankings. The four district champions from Districts 1-4 get automatic bids, with the next four wildcard selections coming from the four highest remaining teams.
With the District 4-7A champion currently outside the Top 8 in power rankings, the Raiders would have to get to the No. 7 spot by season’s end. They currently trail No. 7 Chiles by .029 points. Chiles lost to Niceville on Monday in another makeup game.
"We told our kids after the Pine Forest game that the playoffs started then," Walls said. "That stretch of district games to end the season, that was the playoffs for us. We felt we were still in the hunt, we still had a shot."
Walls said the coaches have reiterated to the players they can’t control what happens elsewhere around the region, but they can control what they do in the final two games, and if they do what they’re capable of doing, they’ll put themselves in a position to be in the playoffs.
"Nothing’s finalized until everybody has played all their games," Walls said of the new playoff format. "We knew we had to finish really strong with a win tonight and hopefully with a win this coming Friday, we have a chance.
"We learned from last year, as far as trying to keep track of points, that it doesn’t really mean anything until everybody has played. Right now, we can look at it and mathematically we are still in the hunt. We know we have to take care of business. We want to finish up this week strong and hopefully that’ll be enough."