In a defensive struggle, the Patriots beat the Rebels after a scoreless first half. (Abigail Fazio for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

With star running back M.J. Stewart shelved for Yorktown’s Virginia 6A North region first-round playoff game against Fairfax with an ankle injury, the Patriots needed someone else to lead the rushing attack.

Enter fullback Da’Jhaun Short , who shouldered the load for his injured teammate. The run-first Patriots were able to keep their ground game going with Short’s 28-carry, 164-yard performance in Yorktown’s 12-7 win Friday night in Arlington.

With the game on the line, the Patriots turned to Short.

Trailing 7-6 with 5 minutes 35 seconds remaining, Yorktown took possession at its 28-yard line.

Twelve plays later, all Short runs, Short scored from seven yards out to give Yorktown a five-point lead.

Fairfax only had 51 seconds left to work with, and when the Rebels’ last possession stalled, Yorktown advanced to a region quarterfinal against No. 3 Lake Braddock next week.

“Once again we were without M.J., and we did it,” Short said. “Once again nobody thought we could do it, and we did it. Our team drove all of us to victory.”

Both teams were able to run the ball well, with Fairfax quarterback/running back Nick Scott rushing for 173 yards on 23 carries.

Yet the game was scoreless late into the third quarter.

With 49 seconds left in the third, Yorktown outside linebacker Sean Coleman realized Fairfax was going to try and hit the Patriots with the same play twice in a row.

Recognizing the formation, Coleman jumped a wide receiver screen and took an interception 42 yards for a touchdown to break the scoreless tie.

“They just ran that play and got some decent yards,” Coleman said. “I figured they’d try to go back to it.”

Fairfax’s lone score of the game came with a combination of trickery and luck. The Rebels ran a flea-flicker, with quarterback Brian Monter launching a 35-yard completion to receiver Jason Monroe . However, a Patriots defender knocked the ball into the air, and it landed in the arms of fullback Max Kavaljian . Kavaljian then ran the ball the remaining 12 yards into the end zone to give Fairfax a 7-6 lead with 10:19 to go in the fourth quarter.

But it was Short’s 12-play drive that decided the game.

Stewart said he will return next week against Lake Braddock, but the Patriots learned a lesson Friday night with their star watching in street clothes.

“Knowing we can do it without somebody that everyone thinks we need is a great feeling,” Short said.