Mervo holds off No. 8 Dunbar in Baltimore City football opener; Kimborough accounts for 3 TDs (VIDEO HERE!)

Mervo running back Izyaah Shird breaks away from Dunbar’s Rashard Clayborn as Joshua Carr (4) closes in during Saturday’s Baltimore City Division I football opening contest. The ninth-ranked Mustangs scored the first 20 points before holding off the eighth-ranked Poets late for a 20-14 decision at Poly’s Lumsden/Scott Stadium. (photo – Jimmy Fields Sr.)

by Derek Toney

It took a couple of series – well, actually a month – to change the complexion of last year’s Dunbar/Mervo football game. It didn’t take as long in the highly anticipated rematch Saturday evening.

The No. 9 Mustangs defeated the eighth-ranked Poets, 20-14, in front of nearly 2,000 at Poly’s Lumsden/Scott Stadium. Senior quarterback Kelin Kimborough threw for two touchdowns and ran for another for Mervo.

The Hillen Road school dominated for nearly three quarters before needing an interception on the last play of regulation to gain the inside track to the Baltimore City Division I title.

Mervo (1-0 overall and Division I) last defeated Dunbar in 2016 (19-17).

“It just feels so good,” said Mustangs junior linebacker Xavier Shell. “We had that intensity as soon as we walked out that locker room. We were ready, hit us with your best shot because we’re gonna come back with something even better.”

The Mustangs landed an immediate shot in the form of Kimborough’s 70-yard touchdown pass to senior Malik Lindsay on the second play from scrimmage. Mervo led 20-0 midway in the third quarter, but Dunbar had the ball at the Mustangs’ 20-yard line with nine seconds left in regulation, with a chance to tie or take the lead.

Sophomore defensive back Kylish Holmes intercepted Dunbar quarterback Tyreek Sykes, and the Mustangs stormed the field in celebration.

Mervo coach Patrick Nixon was pleased with the end result, but disappointed with his team’s sloppy play over the final 24 minutes.

“I thought we came out and played pretty well early on…we definitely got to clean up a lot of discipline stuff,” said Nixon. “Our goal was to go 1-0. Our ultimate goal is winning the city championship and doing well in the state playoffs.”

Mervo reached the Class 4A state semifinals last season. The Mustangs were runner-up to Dunbar in the city Division I, losing to the Poets, 33-8, in a game originally started in late September and wasn’t completed until month later.

In a front of an overflow audience at Mervo’s Modell Field, Dunbar established a two-lead touchdown lead before Mervo mounted a rally early in the second half. The game was halted by the city Fire Marshal because emergency vehicles weren’t able to access the facility.

Hundreds of people, unable to get into the game filled the parking lot outside Modell Field and side streets. There were reports of several fights.

The game was continued in late October at Poly. Dunbar used a pick-six on Mervo’s second possession and added another interception return score to stamp the victory.

“We were fighting our way back in the second half, but there was too much pandemonium outside the stadium and had to end the game,” said Kimborough. “We couldn’t recreate the momentum that we had.”

The Mustangs didn’t take long to establish their presence Saturday. After a false start penalty left Mervo with a 2nd-and-14, Kimbrough lofted a pass down the sideline where Lindsay pulled the ball down over a Poet defender, broke away and ran to the end zone for the touchdown.

“He [Kelin] already knew what the safety was going to do, and I read what the corner was going to do,” said Lindsay, a senior transfer from Dundalk.

Lindsay, who helped Dundalk to a share of the Baltimore County Division I title and a spot in the 3A North final last season, said he had to earn a starting spot at Mervo.

“One of things I asked him before the game is whether he’s ready to play in a big game like this on this stage,” said Nixon. “It took three plays to answer that question.”

Mervo extended the lead to 12-0 midway in the second quarter as Kyree Williams hauled in Kimborough’s pass from 43 yards on 4th-and-14. Kimborough capped an 8-play, 50-yard series with a 1-yard scamper, followed with a 2-point conversion pass to Daquan Harris for a 20-0 advantage with 5:27 left in the third.

Inconsistent at times last season, Kimborough (9-of-18, 136 yards) showed Saturday he’s arguably the city league’s best quarterback, and has a dearth of playmakers.

“We definitely controlled the line of scrimmage,” said Kimborough, who received 76 yards rushing from Kyle Parker and 40 from Jalen England. “I have a lot of weapons at my disposal. They understand that the ball’s going to be shared and they’re cool. We love each other. It’s about the win not individual stats.”

Mervo’s defense, with nine new starters, kept the Poets’ offense in check in the first half. But the two-time reigning Division I champ Poets (0-1, 0-1 Division I) came to life late, thanks in part to the Mustangs.

The Orleans Street school found the end zone for the first time in 2019 on senior Deon Crews-Harris’ 1-yard plunge with 6:51 left in regulation, setup by Jeremiah White’s 35-yard run and three unsportsmanlike penalties by Mervo. The Poets gained possession after senior defensive back Davonta Ayers intercepted Kimborough.

Dunbar got the ball back after stopping Mervo on 4th down. The Poets marched 57 yards in eight plays as Crews-Harris barreled into the end zone from four yards with 1:30 left to play, followed with a successful 2-point conversion run.

Mervo recovered the ensuing onsides kick. But after a series that featured two false start penalties and a fumble, the Mustangs punted the ball back with 1:02 remaining in regulation.

Starting at its own 30, Dunbar got a 34-yard pass from Sykes to Rashard Clayborn to Mervo’s 36. The Mustangs were flagged for a 15-yard horse collar tackle penalty on Sykes, and Sykes followed with a 1-yard run.

After an incomplete pass stopped the clock with 9 seconds left, Sykes rolled out to his left. He threw towards the sidelines for Ayers, but Hicks stepped in front.

Dunbar coach Lawrence Smith, who got 104 yards from junior Jeremiah White, commended his team.

“You go down 20-0, you packed it in, game over,” said Smith. “But you come back and battle back and have the ball at the 20 with a chance to win, that showed me I have a team that’s going to fight every single game. That’s all I can ask.”

After a physical and sometimes terse battle, the rivals came together at midfield. Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott, a Mervo graduate, and City Schools Supervisor of Athletics Tiffany Byrd talked to both teams.

Saturday’s match was the showcase of a triple header at Lumsden/Scott Stadium. Lake Clifton defeated Carver Vo-Tech, 28-18, and City College topped Patterson, 24-6, earlier in the day.

“It’s great for the city and it’s going to keep growing,” said Smith, who serves as president of the city league’s Coaches Association and helped organized Saturday’s event.

Mervo, with Xavier Shell (left), Jermaine Gilliam, Malik Lindsay and Kelin Kimborough, gained the upper hand in Baltimore City Division I with Saturday’s victory. The Mustangs are 27-4 against city opponents since 2015.

“The whole idea was to showcase our kids in a positive light and I think we did that tonight,” said Nixon. “We didn’t get a chance to see the other two games, but I heard they were good teams. I’m proud of the coaches and Baltimore City as a whole.”

No. 9 Mervo 20, No. 8 Dunbar 14

at Poly

Mervo 6 6 8 0 – 20

Dunbar 0 0 0 14 – 14

First quarter

Mervo – Malik Lindsay 70 pass from Kelin Kimborough (kick failed)

Second quarter

Mervo – Kyree Williams 43 pass from Kimborough (pass failed)

Third quarter

Mervo – Kimborough 1 run (Daquan Harris pass from Kimborough)

Fourth quarter

Dunbar – Deon Crews-Harris 1 run (conversion failed)

Dunbar – Crews-Harris 4 run (Crews-Harris run)