One of John Marshall's most successful plays this season was the quick pitch and sweep around either end by senior tailback Bobby Phillips. In Saturday's Virginia AAA Division 5 state football semifinal at George Marshall, the previously undefeated Justices used that play early.

On a third-and-seven call, Phillips took a pitch, sprinted left, headed for the corner and looked for a chance to turn upfield along the sideline. Just as he began to accelerate, George Marshall linebacker Robbie Felts ran down the running back from behind.

On a later series, Phillips tried the sweep again. Again, the same result. For the day, George Marshall limited the Justices to 43 yards rushing with a long gain of eight. Felts, whose primary defensive responsibility is to stop the run, had 13 unassisted tackles and recovered a fumble in his team's 10-0 victory.

"My job was to key on that back," Felts said. "Our ends did a good job containing them and forcing them to cut inside where I was. A couple of times, I just ran across and caught them before they could get upfield. Our job was to stop their run before it got started and we did."

Justices Coach Louis Anderson was almost as surprised as Phillips. "We had a lot of success with that play all year. I don't know what it was; we just couldn't get it to work."

One major reason John Marshall's running game went awry was Felts. The senior, who at 6 feet, 204 pounds is the largest George Marshall starter on defense, led his team in tackles and will be the stopper again when they take on another run-oriented team, Courtland (12-1, Saturday at Courtland for the Division 5 state championship at 1:30.

"Courtland is another team with size and speed but we're used to playing bigger teams," said Felts, also a key member of the two-time defending Northern Region baseball championship team. "I don't think anyone is going to hit me any harder than I hit them so I can't worry about my {lack of} size. Our defense is playing real good right now."

Felts has played very well all season. He and linebacker Mike McCrary were expected to be the key performers for the defense. However, McCrary broke his arm in the third game and was lost for the season.

"No one had to say it but I knew I would have more responsibility when Mike went out," Felts said. "I just tried not to think about it. Most teams we play are going to run a lot and I knew it would put more on me but we work well as a team and we did fine."

His coach, Neil Callahan, said Felts has been steady all year but has been outstanding in the playoffs.

"He has saved his best games for last," Callahan said. "Our defense isn't designed for him to make all the tackles but we want him to nail down the middle. And, if need be, leave him loose to run down people. Robbie is very strong and fast. I wasn't surprised he ran the John Marshall backs down."

After averaging 10 unassisted tackles in the regular season, Felts recorded 15 tackles against Edison and 13 against Fairfax before his third consecutive big game against the Justices.

His best single-game effort was an 18-tackle performance against Mount Vernon in the regular season. But Felts thinks his team's 24-17 win against Yorktown has been the key to the season.

"We had a number of key people out and I knew our defense had to play its best game ever," he said. "It was a big {Great Falls District} game and we came through, 24-17. I had eight tackles but our total defense did a great job."

Felts and his teammates would have loved a crack at top-ranked T.C. Williams to determine the best team in the Northern Region this season (Marshall beat Williams, 10-7, last year in the playoffs). But with this year's two-tier playoff system, Williams (13-0) is playing Hampton (12-1) for the Division 6 (larger schools) AAA state title while Marshall and Courtland vie for the smaller schools crown.

"It would have been nice to play Williams again. Now we'll never know who was best," Felts said. "But we'll gladly settle for a win over Courtland."