Dunbar defensive lineman Dwayne Johnson Jr. said he likes to eat “everything” for Thanksgiving dinner — “turkey, banana pudding, you name it.”
But once again this year, Johnson’s Poets will have something else to do on Thursday. They’ll be practicing first thing in the morning as they prepare for next weekend’s state semifinals.
The No. 7 Poets rolled over Reginald Lewis, 48-0, Friday night at Mervo for the Class 1A North regional championship. The defensive line played a smothering game. Alfonzo Graham, a running back-defensive back, returned two of his three interceptions for touchdowns and also ran for two. Quarterback Jared Lewis factored into three scores, two passing and one rushing.
“It’s a good deal, on the day that we’re thankful, to be practicing to win a state championship,” Johnson said. “It’s a blessing.”
With the win, the Poets (10-1) advance to the state semifinals for the 19th time and extended their state record for playoff wins to 54. They will host Havre de Grace in the semifinal Saturday at 1 p.m. as they aim for the 10th state championship in program history.
This will be their first state semifinal home game in five years and coach Lawrence Smith said there’s nothing better.
“I’m just happy that we’re finally home, that we don’t have to board a bus,” said Smith, whose team fell at Walkersville last year in the Class 2A state semifinals. “We don’t have to go on the road the day after Thanksgiving. We’re playing next Saturday and it’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
It didn’t take long for the Poets to have an inclination they would be getting up early Thursday morning.
They took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on a 40-yard interception return by Graham and a 2-yard pass from Lewis to Raekwon Walker.
The Falcons stopped the Poets on their first two drives, but on the Falcons’ first possession, Graham picked off quarterback Jamaal Douglas and broke a couple of tackles en route to the end zone with 5:44 left in the quarter.
Although this was a showdown between Baltimore City’s Division I champion, Dunbar, and it’s Division II champ, Reginald Lewis, the game showed the difference between the divisions. The Poets have won all three meetings with Lewis, by a combined 150-8.
“Dunbar is Dunbar, an historic program,” Falcons coach Emanuel Glover said. “They’re 50 deep, they’ve got 20 linemen and skill positions. We came in fired up to compete, but we made too many mistakes that cost us.”
The Falcons (11-1), who advanced after Overlea forfeited last week’s win because of an ineligible player, turned the ball over five times.
The Poets led 28-0 at the half and added to it with Graham’s second interception return, for a 38-yard touchdown. Malik McCormack made a terrific one-handed catch on Lewis’ pass to the corner of the end zone that kicked in the running clock with 8:04 left in the third quarter.
All night, the Falcons offense struggled against the Poets defensive line of Johnson, Antonio Woodrum, Domenic Smith and Michael Harris. Those four stifled the running game, but the Falcons began moving the ball late in the second half with a series of screen passes.
Douglas hit Daquan Benjamin for gains of 17 and 14 yards to get to the Dunbar 30-yard line, but Johnson and Woodrum sacked Douglas on the next play for a 6-yard loss. Douglas ran into them again on the next play for a 2-yard loss. He tried to go long, but the Falcons were called for offensive pass interference, and on the final play of the half, Johnson and Smith brought Smith down as time ran out.
The Falcons got the ball first in the second half, but Graham picked off Douglas’ pass on the first play and made the lead 36-0. Despite a 23-yard run from Malik Green on the first play, the Falcons’ next drive stalled.
After McCormack’s touchdown, the Falcons fumbled the kickoff and Saivon Davis recovered. The game was then delayed about 20 minutes while the Falcons’ Tamah Mccray suffered a concussion and was taken to the hospital by ambulance as a precaution.
When play resumed, the Poets needed just four plays before Graham scored on a 22-yard run for a 48-0 lead with 3:41 left in the third quarter.
D 14 14 20 0 — 48
RL 0 0 0 0 — 0
D—A.Graham 40 int. ret. (pass failed)
D—Walker 2 pass from Lewis (J.Graham pass from Lewis)
D—Lewis 2 run (Crews-Harris pass from Lewis)
D—A.Graham 36 run (pass failed)
D—A.Graham 38 int. ret. (pass failed)
D—McCormack 25 pass from Lewis (Lewis run)
D—A.Graham 22 run (run failed)