It was bumpy, but, once again, Dunbar’s road towards another state championship will remain in Baltimore.
The No. 9 Poets defeated previously unbeaten Forest Park, 32-12, to win the Class 1A South Region championship Saturday afternoon at Poly’s Lumsden-Scott Stadium. Dunbar returns to Poly Saturday afternoon for a state semifinal contest against Fort Hill, with winner advancing to the finals at M&T Bank Stadium Dec. 4.
Travon Garrett, Lavar Highsmith, Deontay McManus and Coleman Blackston each scored a touchdown for Dunbar (11-1 overall), which extended its winning streak to 10. Senior quarterback Andrew Allen accounted for both Forest Park’s touchdown with a short run and a 43-yard pass to Raheem Dedmon.
The east Baltimore school is region champs for the eighth consecutive season. Since region play was introduced in 2003, Dunbar is the only program to win a region all eight seasons.
The latest one, however, was far from perfect. The Poets allowed their first touchdown in more than month, and turned the ball over five times.
The only thing that mattered for Dunbar is knowing its pursuit of a seventh state championship next requires another 15-minute bus ride north on Interstate 83 to Cold Spring Lane. Last season, the Poets lost in the state semifinal round at Catoctin (eventual state champ), ending their three-year title run.
“After the number of games we’ve shut people down, we were definitely sloppy,” said Dunbar coach Lawrence Smith. “In this time frame, you just want to survive and move on.”
The Poets twice found themselves trailing to Baltimore City Division II champ Foresters, but the co-Division I champs answered quickly. The last time Dunbar faced a deficit was in week five when City College scored on its first possession.
After giving up two first half scores, Dunbar held Forest Park to 46 yards over the final 24 minutes. Senior linebacker Travon Garrett said the scoreless streak have little significance compared to the Poets’ ultimate goal.
“We’re not worried about records, we’re worried about this game,” said Garrett.
Forest Park (11-1) ended the Poets’ streak at 28 quarters as Allen scored on a one-yard keeper on fourth down, completing five-yard drive set up a botched punt snap. On the ensuing play from scrimmage, Garrett nabbed a deflected pass and went 79 yards down the Poets’ sidelines.
“I had to change my route because I saw the defender came up to play me,” said Garrett, a senior tight end/linebacker. “It was supposed to be a tight end seam.”
Using a Poet fumble, Forest Park went 49 yards in six plays as Allen threw a screen pass to Dedmon. He used a pair of blockers out front and then cut across for the touchdown and a 12-8 advantage with 4 minutes, 20 seconds left in the first half.
It lasted all of 15 seconds as Highsmith returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards, giving the Poets the lead for good. Dunbar turned a Forest Park fumble into a Blackston score midway in the third, and McManus pulled down a Leo Eades pass in the corner of the end zone with under three minutes left in regulation, putting the game way out of reach.
“We wanted to keep pressure on the quarterback and the offensive line,” said Smith, who received quarterback sacks from Marvin Gross, Dorian Waters and Highsmith. “We knew our secondary would come up with some big plays.”
After being shutout in last season’s region finals, Forest Park challenged the Poets Saturday, despite losing its big-play performer Chidi Flowers to a serious knee injury in the opening quarter. Foresters coach Damon Bomar said the Poets’ depth was too much.
“Everybody knew we were vulnerable, we only have six linemen. You can’t go far in the playoffs,” said Bomar, who almost cancelled the Foresters’ season back in August for lack of numbers. “They [Dunbar] knew it and took advantage. My hat’s off to them, and I hope they can bring it home.”
The Poets’ final obstacle to a return trip to “The Big ATM,” also known as M & T Bank Stadium is longtime postseason rival Fort Hill. The last time the teams met was the 2008 1A title game. Dunbar won 20-19, going 90 yards in under two minutes for a touchdown as Tavon Austin’s two-point conversion run lifted the Poets to a third straight crown.
“Fort Hill and Dunbar, that’s the rivalry,” said Smith. “They know we’re going to bring, we know what they’re going to bring. We know it’s going to be crowded, it’s just so happens it’s not going to be at M & T Bank Stadium.”
CLICK RELATED VIDEOS TAB FOR GAME HIGHLIGHTS AND INTERVIEWS
|Dunbar 32, Forest Park 12|
|FP-Allen 1 run (run failed)|
|D-Garrett 79 pass from Estep (Watters pass from Estep)|
|FP-Dedmon 43 pass from Alle|
n (run failed)
|D-Highsmith 80 kickoff return (run good)|
|D-Blackston 2 run (Holt run)|
|D-McManus 11 pass from Eades (Eades run)|