The Navarre football team will host Gainesville on Friday in the Class 6A semifinals.
To say what the Raiders have accomplished under first-year coach Jay Walls is impressive is an understatement. Navarre was expected to have a solid team coming into the season, but I doubt if even the most optimistic Raider fans saw them still playing the first Friday in December.
Maybe Navarre didn’t come out of nowhere to win the District 2-6A title, but most people thought the Raiders were, at best, the third best team in the district behind Crestview and Niceville. Some people might have even had the Raiders as the third best team in Santa Rosa County behind Milton and Pace.
Yes, Navarre made it to the Class 4A region finals in 2010, and the Raiders had some good football players including tight end Jordan Leggett, a Clemson commit, but no other Raiders are listed on any recruiting site as having college offers right now.
If someone had told me before the season started that a team from District 2-6A would be in the state semifinals, my money would have been on Crestview.
Crestview coach Kevin Pettis had never gone back-to-back years without taking a team the playoffs in his career, and it seemed making the playoffs was almost a foregone conclusion with a roster full of Division I athletes.
Maybe the Bulldogs weren’t as big up front on the offensive line as they were in 2011, but the line was more athletic. And, led by senior tailback Micah Reed, they seemed to have more skill players than they did last year.
Reed gained more than 1,000 yards in rushing and solidified his reputation as one of the top running backs in the area.
Transfer student Dakota Davis was a natural to replace fellow senior Dakota Dean at quarterback, which allowed Dean to concentrate on his preferred defensive positions of linebacker and defensive back. Davis playing quarterback also allowed the athletic Dean to move around to other spots on offense such as tight end and fullback.
In theory, the move seemed wise, but I never got the impression that Davis had the same control of the Bulldog offense that Dean did.
Heading into the season, Crestview’s defense should have been the team’s strength, with then Florida commit Dillan Lawson leading a talented Bulldog defense that also included Tyler Henderson, Denzel Ware and Jalynne Robinson.
The often-troubled Lawson was kicked off the team in the middle of the season, but even without him, the Bulldog defense showed signs of brilliance. However, they committed too many costly penalties and gave up too many big plays in clutch situations.
The last two Crestview football seasons have been an enigma to me. I’ve covered high school sports in the area since 2001 and the 2011 and 2012 Bulldog football teams have had more talent than any of the Crestview squads I’ve seen, and that includes the 2002 team that was the Class 3A state runner-up.
I really thought that both the 2011 and 2012 teams would make runs deep into the playoffs, but both teams fell short of making it out of the district.
Every two years, the Florida High School Athletic Association goes through the process of district realignment and the new districts will take effect in the fall. It will be interesting to see which district Crestview is in and whom the Bulldogs will play with.
The 2013 football season’s start is still nine months away, but it’s shaping up to be a crucial one for the Bulldogs. Crestview isn’t expected to compete for state championships every year, but the Bulldogs are expected to be in the hunt for a playoff spot an annual basis.
It will be interesting to see what tricks Kevin Pettis has up his sleeve to turn the program back around.
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at email@example.com, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524