TAMPA — They trotted off Jack Peters Field for the final time through a tunnel composed of younger teammates. In accordance with a Robinson High tradition, the Knights seniors — some of them in tears — exited amid their peers’ applause.
“It’s time to appreciate what you did,” coach Mike DePue yelled amid the sendoff.
With that, one of the most successful eras in the Knights’ half-century of existence reached its poignant benediction.
This senior class, which languished as freshmen and sophomores, combined for 20 wins in its final two seasons. No. 21 was denied Friday by a fast, physical Belle Glade Glades Central squad that spotted the Knights (10-3) an early touchdown before rolling to a 35-10 victory in the Class 2A state semifinals.
“They’re a quick, aggressive defense, they gave our kids fits,” said DePue, who watched the Raiders end his season for the second straight year. “But guess what, we’re here two years in a row. You’ve got to be proud of these seniors that came from 1-9 and 2-8 when they were freshmen and sophomores to make the state semifinals two years in a row.”
Bent on seizing the early momentum against a team that topped them 33-0 the previous December, the Knights converted an onside kick to open the game, with senior Frankie Williams leaping to snag the squib. Three plays later, he dashed around the left side for a 37-yard touchdown.
The Raiders (12-1) responded with a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive to tie the score. On the ensuing possession, Robinson went on a 16-play drive sustained by a roughing the punter and offside penalty against Central on consecutive fourth downs.
But on play No. 16, tailback J.J. Hubbard darted through a hole to his left and sprinted inside the Central 10, only to fumble after being run down from behind by senior Robert Way.
“Robert made a tremendous play there to chase down a kid of that magnitude and get that ball because they were definitely going in,” Central coach (and FSU and NFL alumnus) Jessie Hester said. “That was the turning point of the game, I thought.”
The Raiders scored on two of their next four possessions.
“You talk about just going and grabbing that momentum from the very beginning of the game,” DePue said. “And the crowd was wild, everybody’s with it. But you know, you have some turnovers and momentum goes the other way.”
Hubbard, who totaled more than 300 rushing yards his first two playoff games, had 71 on 19 carries against a defense that loaded the box. Quarterback Blake Rice (65 total yards, two picks) was sacked at least five times.
“Our DBs were able to go man on man with their receivers without them guys hurting us in the passing game,” Hester said. “So that really was key for us to allow us to keep seven and eight guys in the box.”
Sophomore Aaron Baker ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries to lead the Raiders.