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TAMPA -- The Godby Cougars traveled from Tallahassee to Tampa to take on the Robinson Knights in the 5A state semi-finals. The 5 hour drive must not have phased the Cougars because their no huddle, high energy offense did just enough to overcome a determined and talented Robinson squad 24-20.
Robinson was looking to make their first State Final since 1971 and trying to send retiring Head Coach Mike DePue out with a championship.
The Knights got the opening kickoff and started at their own 39. As they have done frequently this year, they moved the ball early through the tough running of Martin Ruiz and Carlos Duclos, who combined for 40 yards rushing on the drive. The Cougars defense stiffened in the red zone and they were able to hold the Knights to a 30-yard Cody Hodgins field goal.
Godby also came out fast, running a quick-pace and no-huddle offense. Quarterback JT Bradwell converted two 3rd downs with his legs but was unable to move the Cougars into scoring position and their opening drive stalled just south of mid-field.
The teams traded short drives before Robinson made the first mistake of the night. On 2nd and 10 from the Godby 46, Knights QB Zain Gilmore threw an ill advised pass near the right sideline and was picked off by Godby's Jacob Pugh.
The Cougars took advantage of this mistake with a methodical 64-yard 10 play drive aided by a costly 15-yard facemask penalty against the Knights when they had stopped Bradwell short on a 3rd and 5. This gave the Cougars a boost. From there, the Godby backs ran tough, led by Khalid Thomas and Tim Longmire. Longmire finished the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run to give the Cougars a 7-3 lead with 9:46 left in the opening half.
As they have done all year, Robinson proved resilient. A short kickoff and good return gave Robinson the ball at the Godby 44. A 13-yard Gilmore pass to Robert Priestergot the Knights into scoring position. From there, Martin Ruiz battered the Cougars defense getting the ball down to the 1 yard line. Gilmore scored on a keeper to give the Knights the lead again 10-7 with 7:35 left in the half. The Knights would get the ball with just over 3 minutes remaining on their own 38 yard line and again make the most out of it. Zain Gilmore converted a 3rd and 6 finding Cody Hodgins for a 34-yard gain. This got the Knights down to the Cougars 23. Sophomore Mike Duclos moved the Knights down to the 2 yard line on 3 consecutive runs. His big brother Carlos, a speedy senior, finished the drive on a sweep to the left for a touchdown. This put the Knights up 17-7 to close out a strong first half. It appeared the Knights would be on their way to the Finals, but the Cougars had different ideas.
Godby took the second-half kickoff and came out firing behind QB JT Bradwell. He hit a big 23-yard pass on 3rd and 5 to Longmire. He then connected on passes of 13 yards to Jaylin Heyward and 9 yards to [/db]Earl Holloway[/db]. This got the Cougars down to the Knights 20 yard line. Khalid Thomas took a handoff up the middle and appeared to be wrapped up for short gain by the Robinson defenders. However, Thomas broke the tackle and surged past two more defenders who appeared to be in position for a 20-yard touchdown run. This cut the Knights lead to 3 early in the third quarter. Robinson would again encounter tough luck on its next drive. On 3rd and 8, TE Justin Madison caught a pass in the middle of the field and was fighting for extra yards when he was stripped of the ball on the way to the turf. This put the Cougars in business at Robinson 43.
Khalid Thomas opened the drive with another 20-yard run. On top of this, the Knights committed a personal foul and this was tacked on to the end of the run to put the Cougars in business at the Robinson 11. Robinson held on 3rd and 10, stopping Wade Phillip after a 7-yard reception from Bradwell. They brought in Tryston Johnson for a field goal try but right side of the Knights defensive line jumped prior to the snap. The Cougars gambled, and went for 4th and 1. Longmire converted the first down and then scored from 1 yard out on the next play to give the Cougars a 21-17 lead that they would not relinquish.
Robinson responded with a time consuming, 17-play drive. They went 74 yards, largely due to QB Zain Gilmore's timely passing and tough running. Gilmore scored connected on passes of 15 and 28 yards to Cody Hodgins. He then found Robert Priester for a 16 yard gain. However, the drive stalled at the 5 yard line of Godby when a Gilmore pass intended for Priester was batted down. Hodgins converted on a 27-yard field goal (after a false start on the previous play) to cut the lead 1 point. The game now stood 21-20 with 1:34 left in the quarter.
Godby answered with an 80-yard drive of its own. Khalid Thomas ran for 45 yards on the drive but the Knights were able to stiffen inside the 10. A Bradwell pass to Earl Calloway was broken up on the goal line and the Cougars had to settle for a 26-yard Tryston Johnson field goal with 10:27 remaining in the game.
The teams traded a series of short drives. Robinson would mount one more furious attempt on its final drive.
The Knights took over on their own 37 yard line with 1:40 seconds remaining and no timeouts. Ruiz and Gilmore, the two clutch seniors, did all they could to propel the Knights and Coach DePue into the finals.
Ruiz ran for 8 tough yards and then Gilmore ran for 3 and first down to stop the clock.
With 1:00 remaining, Gilmore found Ruiz for a 17-yard reception. He then found Jahrvis Davenport for a 13 yard gain. This got the Knights to the Godby 21-yard line with only 23 seconds left.
Gilmore scrambled around and threw a pass into the end zone that was tipped, almost intercepted, and then almost caught by the Knights.
There was now only 13 second left in the game. Gilmore scrambled and completed a pass to Davenport, however, the gain was only for 9 and half yards and Davenport landed in bounds. The Knights tried to rush to the line of scrimmage but the clock ticked to zero before they could get a play off.
For the Knights, their strong effort came up just short. The difference in this game was turnovers. Godby took advantage of the two Robinson mistakes and did not turn the ball over. After this hard-fought win, the Cougars, will now take on the Immokalee Indians for the 5A state crown next week in Orlando.
It was an emotional loss for a close-knit and senior-laden Robinson squad. Although Knights Head Coach Mike DePue will not go out as a state champion, he will hang up his whistle as a proud and respected coach who turned a down-trodden program into a consistent playoff team that is among the best in the state.