Robinson senior Jared Velasquez took a pounding during the first half of the Rams’ Oct. 1 contest at Lake Braddock, grinding out yards against a Bruins defense that likely knew the standout running back was getting the ball. Lake Braddock held Robinson scoreless in the early going, but the Rams’ wing-T offense established it would not be deterred from its hard-nosed approach.
During the opening drive of the second half, Velasquez continued plowing ahead. Ten times the Rams’ workhorse carried the ball as Robinson methodically moved the ball down the field, only one of which went for more than six yards. On the 16th play of Robinson’s 80-yard drive, which chewed nearly nine minutes off the clock, Velasquez fought through a Lake Braddock tackler and into the end zone for the game-tying touchdown.
Despite carrying the Rams’ offense on his back for nearly three quarters, Velasquez still had plenty of gas left in his tank. His helmet, however, could take no more punishment.
A collision with a Bruin defender bent Velasquez’s face mask upward during the touchdown run, forcing the senior to find a new helmet. He finished the game wearing teammate Tristian Crenshaw’s helmet and eventually Robinson finished off Lake Braddock, 10-7.
"As I hit the guy, my straps snapped, my face mask bent and then I just spun off and scored a touchdown," Velasquez said. "Coming off to the sideline, I noticed my face mask was bent and I had to get a new helmet real quick."
Robinson took the lead for good on its ensuing possession when Garrick LaBriola connected on a 32-yard field goal. From there, Velasquez continued to get the ball as the Rams offense bled the clock and allowed their defense to make plays. He finished the game with 137 yards and a touchdown in 34 carries.
For the season, he’s rushed for 574 yards and 12 scores in 96 attempts. Velasquez is the team’s leading receiver with 117 yards and a touchdown. The third-year starter also returns kicks and plays defense.
"He’s such a competitor; he’s kind of a quiet leader," Robinson head coach Mark Bendorf said. "The [offensive linemen] were doing their job, too, because I suspect on the other side of the ball, they knew [No.] 31 was going to get the ball. That put even more of an onus on us up front to execute. I trust [Velasquez], I trust all of my guys, but you’re talking about a guy with 1,309 yards last year, so he comes in with a pretty good pedigree."
The victory helped Robinson avenge last season’s 31-point loss to Lake Braddock in the regional semifinals. Fans of both teams packed the stands for what proved to be an emotional and physical contest.
"You could feel the atmosphere coming from both stands," Velasquez said. "It’s something as a little boy you dream of playing in."
SENIOR CORNERBACK Thomas Petrocci grew accustomed to covering Matt Zanellato in practice when the two were teammates at Robinson. But prior to the 2010 season, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Zanellato transferred to Lake Braddock, moving from the Rams’ ground-oriented offense to the Bruins’ spread attack, led by Division I quarterback Michael Nebrich.
When the two schools met on Friday, it was the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Petrocci who drew the assignment of covering the former Rams wideout.
"I’ve been playing against him for two years when he was at Robinson," Petrocci said. "I was nervous and all because I knew he was a good receiver."
If Petrocci doubted himself before the game, his performance against Lake Braddock should give him a confidence boost for the remainder of the season.
Petrocci intercepted two Nebrich passes, the first of which set up the game-winning field goal, and helped limit Zanellato to two receptions for 51 yards during the Rams’ victory. Petrocci’s first interception came in the third quarter when he stepped in front of Zanellato and returned the pick 16 yards to the Lake Braddock 34-yard line. The second interception came late in the fourth quarter, when No. 22 made a diving catch in front of the Robinson sideline.
"I liked being the one chosen to cover Matt Zanellato," Petrocci said. "I took that like an honor and I just followed through with it."
Bendorf spoke highly of the three-year starter.
"He’s taken the time to learn his trade and he’s very savvy," the coach said. "He’s hard to fool on double moves and things like that. What he lacks in height or speed, he makes up for in intelligence and know how."
Robinson (4-1 overall, 1-0 Concorde District) will host Chantilly at on Friday, Oct. 8, 7:30 p.m.