Dunbar High football coach Lawrence Smith has said the past couple of weeks that the Poets’ state title pursuit was similar to 2006 when the Poets began a run of three consecutive Class 1A championships. He believed the Poets were on the verge of another string of titles.
In the first half of Saturday’s 1A finals against Havre de Grace, “Dunbar Dynasty 2.0,” was collapsing. Four turnovers. Twenty-three yards of offense. And, most importantly, a fast and athletic Warrior squad not fazed by the Poets.
Shaken, not deterred, Dunbar leaned on its championship experience and rallied for a 22-12 victory before a chilled estimated audience of 2,300 at M & T Bank Stadium. In winning their 12th consecutive contest, the east Baltimore school collected its seventh championship trophy.
Senior running back Epe Henriques rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown for Dunbar (13-1 overall) and threw an 81-yard scoring pass to Andre Davis. Jordan Stallings caught a pair of short touchdown pass from junior quarterback Darin Washington for Havre de Grace (11-3).
Unlike its last title victory, a last second decision over Fort Hill in 2008, Dunbar needed a little trickery, a lot of power running and inspired defense, and some more “Poet Pride,” to claim its fourth title in the last five seasons. Since the 1992-93 season, the first for Baltimore City schools in the state association, Dunbar and Seneca Valley from Montgomery County have the most state titles with seven each.
“These guys stay together. They knew we were down, but they wanted to win,” said Smith, who surpassed former Poet coaches Stanley Mitchell and the late Ben Eaton (two each) with his third state title. “We came out after halftime and straighten things out and it showed.”
“We don’t give up, adversity is nothing,” said Poets’ senior linebacker Andre Cudanin. “We trust each other.”
After Henriques fumbled on the first possession of the second half, Dunbar tapped the senior transfer from Joppatowne for arguably the game’s biggest play. On third and 10 from Dunbar’s 19-yard line, DeonTay McManus, playing “Wildcat” quarterback took a snap out of the shotgun and handed off to a motioning Terrence Williams. Williams took a couple of steps and pitched the ball to Henriques, who was standing at the 15.
Henriques sent a pass down the left sidelines to Davis who caught the ball at the Warriors’ 45. Davis outran two Havre de Grace defenders to the end zone, giving Dunbar its first points with 3 minutes, 17 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
“We practiced that play every week, we knew it’s a home run play,” said Henriques, who had 233 yards in the state semifinal victory over Fort Hill last weekend. “All we had to do was get the timing right and it was a sure touchdown.”
Henriques’ two-point run after Kevin Estep’s one-yard sneak gave Dunbar its first lead, 14-12, with 9:01 left in regulation. Travon Garrett’s 32-yard run off a fake punt snap on a fourth down put the Poets in scoring position.
Three minutes later, Henriques broke free for a 38-yard run, extending Dunbar’s advantage to 20-12. After being dominated, 191-23 in total yards in the first half, Dunbar rushed for 169 of its 250 total yards in the final 24 minutes.
“It was very seldom for us being down two touchdowns. At halftime, the players didn’t say anything and the coaches told us how important this was,” Dunbar junior fullback/linebacker Charles Brown. “Good teams fall behind sometimes. We fought back with our heart.”
Havre de Grace, playing in its first title game since 1988, simply punched Dunbar in the mouth in the first half. The Warriors put Dunbar on its heels from the first play from scrimmage with an unsuccessful flea flicker.
On their second possession, Washington’s four of six passing and a 22-yard run by Mike Kelly (147 yards) got the Warriors from their 19 to Dunbar’s 1. Washington rolled to his right and found Stallings alone at the 2, and Stallings turned up and walked into the end zone for a 6-0 with 4:22 left in the first quarter.
Three plays later, Monty Werts hit Poets’ sophomore quarterback Kevin Estep, causing a fumble and Ryan Weismiller recovered for Havre de Grace. The Warriors went 37 yards in nine plays as Washington went to Stallings again for a three-yard score.
Werts, a senior, would force another Estep fumble as Travonn Bond intercepted both Estep and McManus in the first half, but the Harford County school failed to produce points off the miscues. The Warriors were set up at Dunbar’s 37 after the Poets’ fourth turnover of the opening half, but Washington fumbled after being hit by Dunbar’s Dorian Waters.
With momentum creeping back into Dunbar’s favor, Havre de Grace attempted a fake punt as time expired in the third quarter. Woody Hower was unable to come up with a Washington’s throw, setting Dunbar up at the Warriors’ 39. The Poets were successful with their punt fake as, four plays later, Garrett broke down the sidelines.
“We wanted to run a fake punt in this game, and we thought that was our chance to do it,” said Warriors coach Johnny Brooks.
Washington, one of the area’s top underclassmen, said he shouldn’t ran the play with time expiring in the quarter.
“I didn’t realize [clock running down], it was just the emotions of me being in a rush,” said Washington.
The Poets didn’t panic, especially defensively, controlling the line of scrimmage and closing quickly on the Warriors receivers. The Poets allowed 101 yards in the second half.
“You’re going to have mistakes; you’re going to have big plays,” said Garrett. “We’ve been down before. Nothing changes.”
Especially Dunbar being the dominant entity in Class 1A. The Poets are scheduled to return six starters back on each side of the ball, and 27 letter winners overall.
“A lot of people felt the run was over in 08 with Tavon [Austin] and those guys,” said Smith. “This is like 06 for me because we started the dynasty with the win [beat Fort Hill in 1A finals]. With so many guys coming back, we just felt this starts a new run.
These kids love Dunbar and they just want to leave Dunbar with their name in the gym. That’s what it’s all about.”
CLICK RELATED VIDEOS TAB FOR HIGHLIGHTS/INTERVIEWS
Class 1A State Championship
No. 8 Dunbar 22, No. 17 Havre de Grace 12
|Havre de Grace-Stallings 8 pass from Washington (kick failed)|
|Havre de Grace-Stallings 2 pass from Washington (kick failed)|
|Dunbar-Davis 81 pass from Henriques (run failed)|
|Dunbar-Estep 2 run (Henriques run)|
|Dunbar-Henriques 38 run (Holt run)|