Patriot had never seen Robinson outside of film study, but the focus of the Pioneers’ game plan entering Friday’s 6A North region first-round playoff game was the same as every other opponent Robinson has faced this season — watch out for Joe Wilson.
And the Pioneers did on the opening kickoff of the second half, shifting their coverage as Wilson prepared to take a handoff on a reverse run. What Patriot failed to account for was Marcus Denham, the junior who emerged earlier in the season when Wilson went down with an ankle injury. After faking the handoff, Denham raced 91 yards for a touchdown that broke open the Rams’ eventual 35-13 victory in Nokesville.
The Rams advanced to face Concorde District rival Westfield, which beat Hayfield, 33-12, in next week’s 6A North region quarterfinals.
In addition to his long return, Denham provided the speed element in a three-headed Robinson rushing attack that chewed up 257 yards and plenty of clock to keep Patriot’s high-powered offense off the field.
“We have a lot of respect for Patriot’s offense and we knew what our running backs are capable of,” Robinson Coach Dan Meier said. “So we wanted to use our guys in controlling the clock and limiting Patriot’s time on offense.”
Following a scoreless first quarter, Robinson (9-3) pounded away with its ground attack, driving 87 yards behind Wilson (113 yards), Denham and fullback Ayvn Johnson (73 yards) before Jack Rowlett rushed in for a one-yard touchdown.
The score appeared to wake up the Pioneers (8-3), who converted a fourth down during a lengthy drive of their own. But Nick Roth intercepted a fourth-down throw that ultimately led to another short Rowlett touchdown run.
Rams defensive lineman Jake Pinkston added two sacks and a fumble recovery on the next Patriot drive, anchoring a defensive unit that held the Pioneers to just 57 rushing yards following their 300-plus yard output last week against Battlefield.
Denham then highlighted his own season-best performance with the electrifying kickoff return, racing down the left side before cutting to the middle of the field for a touchdown that gave Robinson a commanding 21-0 lead.
“I just saw a huge hole and just took it from there,” said Denham, who had a career-high 71 yards rushing. “I never know when my opportunities will come, so I just work hard and stay ready.”