MORE from our HomeTeam writers.
TAMPA — Even as the stragglers into Jack Peters Field were making their way to the last remaining bleacher spots, the Robinson defense that had scored a state-record 13 touchdowns watched Pasco pull the trick.
Ninety-nine seconds had elapsed in this Class 5A region final, Brandon Ray had returned a Zain Gilmore fumble 40 yards for a touchdown.
“I was not happy at all,” Knights coach Mike DePue said.
From there, the surreality ceased, and a smackdown commenced.
Outmuscling the Pirates (12-1) at the line of scrimmage, the Knights (12-1) totaled more than 400 yards in a 49-21 annihilation before a standing-room-only throng in Port Tampa.
“They just powered us down,” Pirates coach Tom McHugh said.
The Knights host Tallahassee Godby in Friday’s state semifinal. A victory puts them within a game of their first state crown.
“They couldn’t stop us from the get-go,” said DePue, who became the program’s all-time winningest coach (72-42) with the triumph. “We faced adversity and now we’ve shown that we are a championship team. Let’s see if we can make it to the state finals.”
Should their veteran lines assert themselves the way they did on a crisp, clear evening, the Knights could become the fourth Hillsborough County public school since 2003 to win a state crown.
No less an authority than McHugh told his team the same thing afterward.
“I think you just played the next state champion in 5A,” McHugh said.
Gilmore, a second-generation Knights star, totaled 231 yards, 117 on the ground. His 80-yard scoring run on a simple zone-read play came 14 seconds after Pirates quarterback Ben Chandler had hit Nate Craig-Myers for an 8-yard touchdown to tie the score at 14.
Gilmore then capped the second half’s opening drive — nine plays, 74 yards, 4:20 — with a 24-yard bootleg around the left edge. His 1-yard sneak with 3:25 to play in the third gave Robinson a 35-14 lead and essentially sealed things.
“I give everything to my offensive line,” Gilmore said. “The holes, I think I could put my new car in ’em.”
“Thanks to the linemen,” added Knights senior tailback Martin Ruiz (19 carries, 127 yards, two TDs). “I’m going to say it as many times as I can — thanks to the linemen. This is their game. They did their thing.”
Pasco, by contrast, managed a season-low 76 rushing yards. On a night when 1,000-yard rusher David Emmanuel (49 rushing yards) and senior Division I prospect Janarion Grant (7) needed to go north and south, the pair did just that.
Unfortunately for them, Jack Peters Field runs east-west.
“We were terrified of (Emmanuel) and (Grant), terrified of them,” DePue said. “But we told them all week, we need to get these guys going (horizontal). They didn’t go (vertical) much on us today.”