Coaches consider the start of district play a whole new season.
But, after starting their 2015 campaign on a five-game win streak, there was no reason for the Navarre Raiders to flip the script now.
The Raiders, sitting pretty at 6-0 overall, opened District 2-6A play with a 42-27 win against the Pace Patriots at home.
“I think we did a solid job running the football,” Navarre coach Jay Walls said. “We had some good throws in the passing game. I thought our kids played physical. This is a big game. We knew Pace was going to be ready.
“We got some big breaks, they had some bad snaps … We got great field position and that was a big key, big key for us. They’re good. I think they’re much better than last year, and I think they’ve still got a shot. There’s a lot of football left to play.”
The Patriots entered halftime trailing the Raiders 21-0 and then gave up another touchdown in the opening moments of the third quarter as Navarre’s Michael Sandle ran the ball in on a reverse play from the Pace 13.
Pace started to show sparks of life after that as running back Anthony Johnson Jr. marched the team upfield on a 12-play drive that culminated in an 11-yard run to snap the shutout.
Johnson, hit hard at the line of scrimmage on first-and-10 from the 11, powered over the defender and skirted through a hole to find the score.
“In the first half, we didn’t play well, but in the second half, we didn’t quit,” Pace coach Mickey Lindsey said. “I’m so proud of ’em. We fought and fought — showed a lot class and a lot of character.
“Navarre’s got a very, very good football team. You can’t make mistakes against a team like that. It’ll come back and hurt you every time.”
Navarre answered back with a touchdown of its own — a 27 yard pass to Octavien Moyer from Sage Chambers — but the Patriots went on to outscore the Raiders 20-7 in the fourth quarter.
The highlight for the Patriots came with 6:28 remaining in regulation as Bennett Shell turned a sweep into an 80-yard touchdown run to cut the score to 42-21.
With time winding down and the game all but in the books, Pace continued to fight until the very end, scoring from the Navarre 1-yard line with six seconds on the clock to cap a 15-play drive.
“We weren’t going to quit,” Lindsey said. “We had already made up our mind. These kids haven’t quit all year, and I told them going into tonight’s game we were 0-0.
“We fought and fought … we made mistakes, but it wasn’t because of lack of effort.”
Now Pace will turn its attention to Tate while the Raiders look to potential postseason opponent Escambia.
“They’re an outstanding team,” Walls said of Escambia. “They’ve had some really tough games — some really big games and won.
“We’re going to have to play some tough football.”