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New kids in state finals, but New Town ready for No. 6 Dunbar

FootballBasketballMaryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association

Everyone who thinks New Town will defeat two-time defending champion Dunbar in the Class 1A state football finals Saturday, raise your hands.

Shawn Magginson can count the few believers.

"Our parents, our coaches and our players say we can win," said Magginson, the Titans' quarterback.

To others, the result seems a foregone conclusion.

"We're gonna get smashed," running back Donte' Gross said. "At least, that's what I hear."

Who's to argue? It's the first trip to the finals — and cavernous M&T Bank Stadium — for New Town (11-2), a young, unranked team from Owings Mills.

Dunbar, meanwhile, has a proud legacy. The No. 6 Poets (12-1) have won six state championships in the past eight years, eight titles since they joined the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association in 1992, and more postseason games (43) than any school in state history.

The Titans are impressed, but not cowed.

"Everybody says we're going to lose. Why? Because it's Dunbar," said Gross, a star in New Town's stable of fleet runners. "Well, we made history this year, too. And we can beat them if we play Titan football."

New Town advanced with a hard-fought victory over Perryville, 28-27, in the semifinals. Dunbar rolled over Brunswick, 40-8.

Nevermind that Dunbar has nine shutouts and allowed 23 total points in its last 12 games, the Titans said.

"We can beat 'em," said Derrick Kittrell, New Town's top rusher (1,286 yards and 19 touchdowns). "I saw them play Brunswick. It was 16-8 at halftime before Dunbar sucked the life out of them, but I didn't see anything spectacular.

"I know a lot of people don't believe in us, and that's the best part. I drive for games like this. They boost my spirit and make me play harder."

Moreover, Kittrell said, New Town wants payback for losing to Dunbar last year in the Class 1A boys basketball state finals, 60-36.

"Our basketball team wants us to beat them real bad. They're some of our biggest supporters," Kittrell said. "I'm not going to do a lot of trash talking, but Dunbar better come and play hard. They better not sleep on us, because we're not laying down for [anybody]."

All week at New Town, amid pep rallies and media interviews and football-laced morning announcements, Titans coach Joe Holland told his players not to be spooked by their venue Saturday.

"That place [M&T Bank Stadium] is definitely awe-inspiring," said Holland who, for three years, has worked on the crews that televise the championship games for WNUV. "I tell the guys, 'folks are there to see you, not the other way around. You're at the door of where you want to be, now kick it down and get what you want.' "

New Town boasts a team rich in chemistry, with bonds forged by setbacks. A year ago, having already won one playoff game, the Titans learned they had to forfeit their season for using an ineligible player.

"That was heartbreaking," Magginson said. "We found out on a Monday, in a meeting in the auditorium with the coaches. There were tears everywhere at New Town that day."

What happened next typifies the Titans' resiliency. The team's underclassmen vowed to return to the playoffs and even dedicated the 2012 season to the 24 seniors who graduated last June.

"We just took the bad news, and ran with it, and made this our priority for this year," Gross said.

Lesson learned.

"Instead of tucking in their tails and looking for excuses, the guys all united," Holland said. "We had our biggest turnout ever for offseason weightlifting. That [forfeiture] scarred us all, but it also brought us together. Even the guys who graduated last spring have been supportive this year, coming back to work with these guys."

Five or six of those star-crossed alumni drove to Perryville last week to cheer on their old teammates. Then, on Monday, Magginson (1,064 yards passing and 13 TDs) received a phone call from Shawheem Dowdy, last year's quarterback who now attends Grambling State.

"Good luck and bring it home," Dowdy said.

Hearing that, the coach nodded in affirmation.

"Our slogan is, 'Once a Titan, always a Titan,' " Holland said. "They take it to heart."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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