Once a year, a rowdy group of pirates is allowed to come into South Tampa and have their way with the locals. For the Robinson Knights, once a year is enough and this is football playoff time, not Gasparilla time. In a 5A Regional Final game at Jack Peters Field Friday night, Robinson ran roughshod over the previously unbeaten Pasco Pirates 49 – 21 to advance to the Class 5A semifinals.
BCP Player of the Year candidate Zain Gilmore and teammate Martin Ruiz combined for over 250 yards rushing and 5 unanswered touchdowns to lead the Knights to victory. As Pasco star athlete Janarion Grant said matter-of-factly after the game, “We just couldn’t stop their run.”
The game began somewhat ominously for teams — two teams that came into the game with a combined record of 23 – 1. Pasco got the ball first and lost 4 yards before punting. But as bad as Pasco’s start was, Robinson’s was worse. On their first play from scrimmage, a shotgun snap sailed past Gilmore and was scooped up by sophomore linebacker Brandon Ray and returned 40 yards for a Pirate touchdown. It was the exact kind of play that Robinson had seen from its own defense several times this season, but exactly what Robinson didn’t want to see happen to them Friday night.
The Knights got the ball back on their own 20 yard line and put together a 16 play drive that culminated with a fourth down, 7 yard touchdown run by junior Robert Priester. The drive set the tone for the night and served notice on Pasco that Robinson was going to run the ball right at the Pirates unless and until the visitors could stop them. Turns out, they never could.
Pasco moved the ball on the ensuing drive, with Grant picking up key yards out of the wildcat formation, but eventually were forced to punt. Robinson went right back to work. Ruiz picked up 40 yards on a screen pass and 9 yards on a run. Gilmore completed a short pass to Priester and then connected on a slant pass that was ruled down on the Pasco 1-yard line. From there, sophomore Michael Duclos punched it in to give the Knights a 14 – 7 lead.
Pasco brought in Benjamin Chandler to take the snaps at quarterback and the move paid immediate dividends as the lanky junior connected twice with freshman Nate Craig for 13 and 16 yards to move the ball into Knight territory. Senior running back David Emmanuel picked up 16 yards on his own and Chandler connected with Grant on an 8-yard pass amidst three Knight defenders. Chandler then hit Craig on a slant pattern for an 8-yard touchdown and the score was knotted once again.
It didn’t take the Knights long to untie the knot. On the first play on their next possession, Gilmore raced 80 yards for a score, as if to tell the Pirates that this night would belong to his Knights. The 21 – 14 score would hold up until halftime.
Robinson opened the second half with another impressive drive, combining Ruiz runs and short precision passes from Gilmore to move down the field. Gilmore capped off the drive by taking the naked bootleg around left end for a 24-yard touchdown run and a 28 – 14 lead. The Knight defense, fueled by the success of the offense, pushed the Pirates backwards, forcing a punt from their own end zone. Taking over on the Pasco 42, Gilmore, Ruiz and Duclos set up a 1-yard quarterback sneak from Gilmore for another Knight touchdown and a 35 – 14 Robinson advantage.
With most of the 3rd quarter consumed by Robinson’s two drives, and Pasco starting to sense that their undefeated season was coming to an end, the Pirates moved the ball quickly into Robinson territory. But, on 2 and 11 from the Knight 48, Robinson defensive back Brandon Peters picked off a long pass attempt and returned it back to the Pasco side of the field as the third quarter came to a close. The teams traded punts before Ruiz put the exclamation point on the next Robinson drive with a 20-yard touchdown run. Ruiz would add a second touchdown before the night ended, this one from 7 yards out, to cap the scoring for the Knights. Ruiz finished the night with 128 yards rushing on 20 carries to go along with his 40-yard pass reception. Gilmore netted 123 yards on 13 carries, the majority coming on his 80-yard TD run. Through the air, Gilmore was an efficient 8 for 10 for 116 yards. Michael Duclos and Priester also added to the Robinson ground attack, as the line of scrimmage was dominated by the Knight offensive line.
Pasco closed out the scoring with a 59-yard touchdown pass from Chandler to Craig – a combination that could prove fatal for Pirate opponents next year. But, this night belonged to Robinson. Robinson head coach Mike DuPue became the winningest coach in school history with the victory in this, his final season. He credited the win to his team’s “dominant third quarter of football.” The Knights move to 12 – 1 on the year and will have an opportunity to punch their ticket to the state championship game next Friday night when they host Tallahassee Godby.
– Bob Barnes