Dunbar's football team likes to celebrate its own special family tradition around this time every year and for the Poets, that means a trip to M&T Bank Stadium.
The No. 6 Poets used a relentless running game and an intimidating defense to overpower Brunswick's record-setting aerial offense en route to a 40-8 state semifinal victory Saturday, earning the two-time defending Class 1A champions another berth in the state finals.
"This was our goal — and that's everybody's goal going in — but we set up our offense and defense to get back to the championship, to keep going back," Poets All-Metro defensive end Marvin Gross said. "It's a tradition for Dunbar to go to the championship, and that's what we're going to continue to do."
The Poets (12-1), who have won more playoff games than any team in state tournament history, will meet first-time state finalist New Town (11-2), a 28-27 winner over Perryville on Friday night, for the Class 1A title Saturday at noon at M&T Bank Stadium. They are aiming for their ninth state title and their seventh in nine years.
On Saturday afternoon at the Poets' William F. "Sugar" Cain Field in East Baltimore, Dunbar running back Coleman Blackston single-handedly outgained the entire Brunswick team, rushing for 269 yards on 27 carries. The Railroaders (8-5), from Frederick County, had 226 yards of total offense. The Poets finished with 512.
Coach Lawrence Smith's Poets, beneficiaries of five Brunswick turnovers, scored five rushing touchdowns — two by Blackston and one each by Dominic Miller, Paki Brown and Aaron Savage.
"Our offensive line was just working today," Blackston said. "They were moving us down the field. The offensive line was giving me some holes and I was just cutting right off of them."
The offensive line of Dariz Hill, Nicholas Bonaparte, Malik Jones, Teon Ransom and Brandon Giles opened the holes for the Poets to gain 445 yards rushing.
"This weather's beautiful," Hill said. "When it's windy you can't throw the ball. You've got to keep the ball on the ground, so it's just smash-mouth football."
Blackston scored on an early 27-yard run and Miller's 30-yard touchdown sprint gave the Poets a 16-0 lead 21 seconds before the half.
The Railroaders rallied after Gary Barrett recovered a Poets' fumble late in the third quarter. Quarterback Collin Nusbaum, who set a state record with 481 pass attempts this season, led Brunswick 86 yards in less than two minutes, capping the drive with a 42-yard touchdown strike over the middle to Kyle Coates with 1:44 left in the quarter. Those were the first points the Poets, who have shut out nine opponents, had allowed since Oct. 12.
Nusbaum then connected with Timmy Harrison for the two-point conversion to pull within 16-8.
On the Poets' next possession, Blackston took them most of way on a 70-yard scoring drive and finished it off with a 17-yard run for a 22-8 lead less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
Gross forced a fumble on the next Railroaders drive and Eric Scott recovered on the Brunswick 32-yard line, setting up another scoring drive that ended with Brown's 1-yard run.
After the Railroaders turned the ball over on downs, Savage completed another Poets' scoring drive with a short run. Wilbur Young then finished off the scoring when he returned a fumble recovery 22 yards into the end zone.
Nusbaum completed 15 of 33 passes for 203 yards, but the Poets never let the Railroaders settle into any offensive rhythm. Wide receivers Blaine Price, who set four state receiving records, and Jake Struss combined for eight receptions and 134 yards Saturday after coming into the game with a combined 413 catches for 5,425 yards and 53 touchdowns.
"Their two defensive ends [Gross and Jones] are outstanding football players," Brunswick coach Patt Foster said. "They put a lot of pressure on the quarterback throughout the course of the game … and we tried to go different angles to take them away a little bit, but they're tremendous athletes and the secondary's tremendous athletes and covered our guys well and didn't let us get open. Every yard we had, we fought for and scrapped for and their guys were right there with us."
B 0 0 8 0 -- 8
D 8 8 8 24 -- 40
D—Blackston 27 run (Holt run)
D—Miller 30 run (Holt run)
B—Coats 42 pass from Nussbaum (Harrison pass from Nussbaum)
D—Blackston 17 run (run failed)
D—Brown 1 run (run failed)
D—Savage 3 run (pass failed)
D—Young 22 fumble rec (pass failed)