HILMAR — With Hilmar trailing Center by three points midway through the second half, head coach Frank Marques turned to receiver Tyler Robinson and asked how he could beat his man.
Robinson asked for a back-shoulder pass.
Hilmar quarterback Jonathan O’Brien delivered the perfect pass and Robinson made an incredible catch as he lept high to grab the ball and was able to get one foot in bounds for a 12-yard touchdown catch that proved to be the game-winner.
“Jon O made a great throw,” Robinson said. “He put it right on my back shoulder. I went up and tried to put my foot in bounds when I came down. The referee raised his hands so I must have come down in bounds. It was crucial that we scored there after they ran the kickoff back. It helped us get momentum back.”
Robinson has been making plays like that for Hilmar (13-0) all year. The 5-foot-11, 165-pound senior has caught 56 passes for 982 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Yellowjackets will need another big game out of Robinson when they face defending state champion Central Catholic (12-1) in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 title game on Saturday at Lincoln High in Stockton at 2 p.m.
Robinson has become O’Brien’s favorite target by catching balls all over the field.
“He worked hard in the offseason,” Marques said. “He really dedicated himself. He was in the weight room, he was running patterns. I can say he’s the best receiver we’ve ever had.
“He does everything well. I’m talking about every aspect of being a receiver. He blocks well. He runs well after the catch. He’ll go across the middle. He’ll make catches in traffic. He’s great on the sideline.”
After catching just 14 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns last year, Robinson worked hard to imrpove. He credits teammate David Bisby for motivating him in the weight room. Robinson worked out more than 2 hours a day in the offseason. He spent hours on routes and catching passes from O’Brien.
“I put on 25 pounds because David Bisby and I were the first ones in the weight room every day,” Robinson said. “I watched film of my junior year and I could see things I could have done better. I would see I could have run a better route on this play or if I would have given a head fake on that play.
“It’s a night and day difference for me this year compared to last year. I’m playing with a lot more confidence. I used to be afraid to get hit. As soon as I caught a pass I was bracing for a hit. This year I’m catching a pass and fighting for every single yard I can get. It’s gotten to the point now that my coach is telling me I need to learn when to go down.”
There’s no question he’s earned O’Brien’s trust.
“He’s a great possession receiver,” O’Brien said. “He’s got the best hands on the team. He’s an amazing route runner. If we’re able to get enough time and if I’m able to throw the ball in his vicinity he’s going to make the catch.”
Robinson has come up huge in some of Hilmar’s biggest games. He caught six passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-21 win over Ripon. He had 126 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Hughson.
With Hilmar forced to grind out wins in the playoffs, Robinson has delivered 17 catches for 220 yards and two touchdowns in wins over Liberty Ranch, Escalon and Center.
The Yellowjackets know they’re underdogs this week against Central Catholic, but they’re fine with it.
“Nobody thought we’d do what we’ve done,” Robinson said. “Nobody thought we’d be 13-0. When we went against Ripon we were the underdogs. When we went against Center we were the underdogs. We like that. We like to prove people wrong and that’s what we’re going to try to do on Saturday.”
Sun-Star staff writer Shawn Jansen can be reached at (209) 385-2462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.