The Robinson Rockets and Whitney Wildcats exchanged haymakers in a contest befitting the two schools’ current status as Central Texas heavyweights.
Both teams showed off offensive stars that are shining so far this season, but in the end Rockets defensive backs Colby Crow and Slade McCloud came up with the difference-making play.
Crow and McCloud met and stopped Whitney quarterback Devin Wilson at the line of scrimmage on a crucial fourth-and-one play from the Rockets’ 6, preserving Robinson’s 33-27 victory on Friday night at Rocket Field.
For most of the week, Crow wasn’t feeling that great. But he and McCloud helped the Rockets walk off the field with wide smiles on homecoming.
“It was just a relief to get them off the field and I was proud of Colby,” Robinson coach Tommy Allison said. “He had the flu earlier in the week, so for him to step up there was huge for us.”
Robinson, ranked No. 9 in Class 4A Division II, kept its record perfect at 4-0 by handing Whitney (3-1) its first loss of the season.
Rockets running back Ethan Linder, who rushed for 110 yards on 15 carries, scored the game-winning touchdown on a one-yard plunge with 6:41 left in the fourth quarter.
That capped a four-play 53-yard drive that answered Whitney’s tying touchdown less than a minute earlier.
The Wildcats pulled even at 27 when backup quarterback Garrett Peacock hit top receiver Kolby Tanner for a 10-yard touchdown and starting QB Devin Wilson tossed a successful two-point conversion pass to Tanner.
Wilson finished with 90 rushing, 84 passing yards and returned a kickoff 90 yards for a third-quarter touchdown.
He used his legs to give the Wildcats one final shot to tie the game by scrambling 29 yards to convert a second-and-28 from his own 15.
The play ignited Whitney’s final drive. Wildcats utility back Juan Saucedo mixed in an 11-yard run to the Robinson 25. Then Wilson took off for gains of 11 and 7 yards to the Rockets’ 7.
However, that’s where Robinson dug in.
After an incomplete pass, the Rockets stopped Saucedo for a two-yard gain on third-and-three from the 7. On fourth-and-one, Wilson sprinted to his left, looking for a seam to dart through for the first down inside the Rockets 5.
But Crow and McCloud sliced through the Wildcat blockers and led a charge of Rockets that brought down Wilson outside of the line to gain.
With a first-and-10 at its own 6 and more than three minutes remaining, Robinson gave the ball to running back Malik Ford, who hustled for a pair of first downs. The Wildcats were out of timeouts at that point and Robinson was able to run out the clock.
The Rockets ran the ball effectively most of the night. Robinson quarterback Joseph McHenry rushed for 99 yards on 12 carries and Ford added 70 on 9 totes, bringing the Rockets to a team total of 279 rushing yards.
McHenry went around the left side and dashed 25 yards for a touchdown that gave Robinson a 20-13 lead after the Rockets first drive of the third quarter. Ford added a 17-yard touchdown run later in the period.
Whitney landed the first punch late in the first quarter when Saucedo took a pitch left and got the edge. Saucedo outran the Robinson defense, which caught up just in time to make the Wildcat fall into the end zone.
Saucedo’s 68-yard touchdown run put Whitney in front 6-0 after a busted play on the extra-point attempt with 2:03 remaining in the opening period.
Robinson came right back with an answer as McHenry led the Rockets on a 12-play, 55-yard touchdown drive. On fourth-and-goal from the Whitney 9, McHenry looked right and then through a fade pass to his left that Ford caught in the corner of the end zone.
The Rockets student section at the east end of the stadium drew a penalty for sending baby powder that resembled smoke into the air. Subsequently, Robinson missed the extra point and the game remained tied at 6 with 10:12 to go in the second quarter.
The Rockets took advantage of a special teams bonus on the ensuing kickoff.
Robinson kicker Robert Roque booted a pop-up kick that hit the turf in Wildcats territory and Cooper Petty recovered it for the Rockets, setting up the home team at the Whitney 33.
McHenry moved the Robinson offense in for the score by passing to Linder for 11 yards and taking it himself for a 10-yard gain to the 3. Ford finished the march with a three-yard touchdown run and Roque’s extra point made it 13-6.
But Whitney produced an equalizing score before halftime.
Saucedo had a 13-yard run to the Robinson 35 that set up a Wilson touchdown pass two plays later. Wilson scrambled to buy time and then found Tanner open at the goal line. Tanner hauled in the 31-yard touchdown pass and Wilson added the extra point to tie the contest once again, this time at 13.
With the win, Robinson swept the home-and-home series of the last two seasons. The Rockets edged the Wildcats, 28-27, a year ago in Whitney.