No. 7 Dunbar races past South Carroll for 2A/1A state football championship; Roche totals 189 yards, 3 TDs
by Derek Toney
When the scoreboard clock at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium hit zero Saturday afternoon, several Dunbar High football players ran around the field in celebration. Poets coach Lawrence Smith was sprayed with water bottles.
Two years of wait ended gloriously for the No. 7 Poets, who won the Class 2A/1A state championship with a 38-6 victory over previously undefeated and 12th-ranked South Carroll. Junior running back Tristan Keenan rushed for 212 yards and a touchdown for the Poets, and Devin Roche threw for two scores and ran for another.
The Baltimore City school scored on its first three possessions, setting the stage for a record 11th championship celebration on a sunny afternoon in Annapolis.
On a chilly early evening on the first Saturday in December 2019, Dunbar left the state capital in shock after Frederick County’s Catoctin dominated them in the 1A final. The disappointment lingered as the 2020 season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saturday, Dunbar (13-0 overall) completed its first perfect season since 2007.
“It was hard leaving here in 2019,” said Smith, referring to the 31-8 title game loss. “We watched that film all week..a lot of the guys weren’t even on that team. The guys didn’t want that feeling anymore.”
“I’m going to miss these guys,” said Keenan of his senior teammates. “I’m glad we got to end it right.”
Keenan, who held the state championship trophy at the start of Saturday’s postgame press conference, was a big reason Dunbar exorcised the memory of the 2019 final. The chiseled 6-foot, 185-pounder went 48 yards on Dunbar’s first offensive play Saturday. His interception with two minutes left in regulation kicked off Dunbar’s celebration on the sidelines.
“He’s that 1-2 punch, if I go down, he’s up and if he’s down, I’m picking up the slack,” said Roche, a junior athlete.
Roche, whose move to quarterback in the Poets’ thrilling overtime victory over Mervo in the regular season transformed the offense, was unstoppable as well Saturday. Roche accounted for 189 yards with 98 on the ground and threw for 91.
The Poets, averaging 49 points entering Saturday, put up nearly half in the opening 11 minutes. Keenan followed his 48-yard opening with a 38-yard breakout to the end zone, capping a 95-yard drive to open the scoring.
Dunbar got a short field, courtesy of Warren Smith’s fumble recovery at South Carroll’s 24, and took advantage. Donte Lee pulled in Roche’s pass in the corner of the end zone. The Poets got the ball near midfield on its next possession, and Keenan went 26 yards on 2nd-and-long.
Two plays later, Roche found daylight and jogged into the end zone. He added a third two-point conversion run, giving a 24-0 advantage with 1:25 left in the opening quarter.
Smith believes his Poets’ 2021 offense could score at will.
“This is definitely one of the fastest teams we’ve had. We said coming into the season we wanted to be the greatest show on turf,” said Smith. “We want to show folks we can put up numbers at any time.”
The Poets led 32-6 at halftime as Roche, escaping out the pocket, found an open Dashawn Parks downfield. Parks, a junior, ran into the end zone for a 47-yard score that was followed with Roche’s fourth 2-point conversion run.
Reserve quarterback Antonio Lyde provided the Poets’ final score with a touchdown run midway in the fourth.
Dunbar finished with 437 yards Saturday.
“You can’t coach against speed. It’s tough,” said South Carroll coach Mike Kraus.
In their first state final since 2005, the Cavaliers (12-1) fared better after Dunbar’s opening salvo Saturday. The Carroll County school got on the board in the second quarter on AJ Rodrigues’ 10-yard run.
South Carroll assembled its best drive to open the second half, marching from its 34 to Dunbar’s 11. Cavaliers senior quarterback Ryan Barnard was stopped on 4th-and-1.
Barnard, a Baltimore Touchdown Club Super 22 pick, wasn’t able to get comfortable Saturday, finishing 5-of-12 for 42 yards, and was sacked five times.
Though falling short of a perfect season and becoming Carroll County’s first state football champion, South Carroll had much to celebrate in 2021, starting with a spring season after the 2020 fall season was canceled due to the pandemic.
“We created a bond these last two years and it carried us,” said Barnard. “We played for each other in this game. It didn’t turn out the way we wanted, but we had each other’s back.”
“Not everybody can go home with the prize,” said Kraus, who was an assistant on the 2005 South Carroll team that reached the 2A final. “We said we weren’t happy to be here, we came to win. We’re a little dejected right now, but when it’s all said and done, I’m sure we’ll be proud for what we did for our county.”
Dunbar’s victory marked the first time since 2006 (Dunbar in 1A and Edmondson in 2A) two Baltimore City schools won a state championship. Mervo claimed the 4A/3A title Thursday evening.
Smith said the Poets stayed committed while adjusting to not playing in 2020 and reestablishing consistency in 2021.
“It was very difficult, but when you have the core of the team who wanted this day and started spreading to other players, and do whatever to make it work, this was no mistake,” said Smith, who claimed his seventh title as Poet coach.. “It was easy for the coaches once the kids brought in.”
“It was rocky getting everybody locked in,” said Roche. “To see everybody come together as one and get what we’ve been working for all season, it’s a sigh of relief.”
CLASS 2A/1A STATE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium
No. 7 Dunbar 38, No. 12 South Carroll 6
South Carroll 0 6 0 0 – 6
Dunbar 24 8 6 0 – 38
Dunbar – Tristan Keenan 38 run (Devin Roche run)
Dunbar – Donte Lee 22 pass from Roche (Roche run)
Dunbar – Roche 28 run (Roche run)
South Carroll – AJ Rodrigues 10 run (pass failed)
Dunbar – Dashawn Parks 47 pass from Roche)
Dunbar – Antonio Lyde 2 run (run failed)