Rebuilding or reloading? Robinson wins sixth straight flag football title

With a JV feeder program that hasn’t lost since 2011, the Knights seem well-stocked for the foreseeable future.
Robinson won its sixth straight flag football state title Saturday in Jacksonville, defeating Choctawhatchee 18-14 in the Class A state final.
Robinson won its sixth straight flag football state title Saturday in Jacksonville, defeating Choctawhatchee 18-14 in the Class A state final. [ Courtesy of Josh Saunders ]
Published May 16, 2022

TAMPA — Flag football teams across the state continue to improve at a rapid pace, but no matter how good those teams have become, very few have kept up with Robinson High.

For the sixth straight time, the Knights, ranked No. 3 overall in the state by MaxpPreps when the week started, won the Class A state title on a Saturday in May — this time with a spice of rare drama in the final moments.

Leading by six points with 56 seconds remaining in Jacksonville, Robinson decided to take a safety and give the ball back to Choctawhatchee.

That meant the Indians got the ball at their own 30-yard line, trailing by four. If they drove it 50 yards for a touchdown, they would no doubt take the state title, ending the Knights’ string of championships.

“We felt good putting (Choctawhatchee) in that situation against our defense,” Robinson coach Josh Saunders said. “We felt we could take care of things.”

Then they did.

Knights sophomore linebacker Manasvi Vijayaraghavan (also known as “VJ”) read the Choctaw receivers and their quarterback.

“I ran through my head what I had learned from the past and told myself I needed to stay in my area,” said VJ, brought up during the season from the junior varsity. “Then I saw the ball flying toward me. It was a little higher. I jumped up and caught it.”

Interception. Game over.

“What a great feeling to make a play like that in that situation,” she said. “It was awesome.”

It also was a celebration after a relative rebuilding year for the Knights, who had to replace record-setting quarterback Sydney Stout and receiver Bella Dolce. Stout finished last year with 523 completions in 710 attempts (74 percent) for 5,880 yards an 111 touchdowns with only nine interceptions — state records for yards, touchdowns and completion percentage. Dolce, meantime, caught 143 passes for 1,428 yards and 30 touchdowns — a team record (and believed to be a state record) for receptions.

Robinson also went 22-0 in 2021.

“We all felt some pressure to keep up the high level of play,” said 2022 starting quarterback Brianna Stearns. “I didn’t want to let anybody down.”

Stearns admitted to feeling extra pressure March 2 after struggling through a 13-6 loss to defending Class 2A state champion Newsome — a loss that ended Robinson’s state-record 55-game win streak.

“I got in my head a little bit,” Stearns said. “I had to work through some things.”

With the support of her current team and former players — “Including a few conversations with Stout,” Stearns said — she and the Knights got better, ultimately ending the season with a 17-game win streak and a 22-1 record.

In the end, Stearns’ season stats were pretty darned good (3,728 passing yards, 65 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) as she distributed the ball to several outstanding athletes: Adriana Williams (1,213 receiving yards, 481 rushing, 24 total touchdowns), Katejion Robinson (1,234 receiving yards, 29 touchdowns, seven interceptions on defense), Christal Rolack (839 receiving yards, 18 touchdowns, team-record 127 flag pulls, 11 interceptions).

“I was determined to step up and make it work, especially because this was my senior year,” said Rolack, whose sisters Crisheena and Christiana played flag for Robinson in the previous eight years. “I felt a responsibility.”

The Knights’ state title, by the way, was their seventh in the past eight tries.

Consider this for future reference: Robinson’s junior varsity flag team again went undefeated, extending its win streak to 85 games. The Knights JV hasn’t lost since March 22, 2011.

Newsome comes up short

A year after winning its first flag football title, Newsome lost in Saturday’s Class 2A final, 34-14 to No. 1 ranked Davie Western — ending a streak of four straight years where Hillsborough County teams won both state titles.

Newsome, which entered Saturday’s game ranked No. 2, ended its season 20-2. Wolves senior quarterback Devyn Silvestri finished the year with 383 completions in 594 attempts for 3,898 yards and 51 touchdowns, and rushed for another 629 yards and 14 touchdowns.