Nine is a lucky number for Dunbar’s football team this fall. In their ninth straight trip to the state semifinals, the Poets advance to their ninth title game in 18 years – more any other team during that span.
A 42-6 victory over No. 15 and previously-undefeated Overlea Friday night sends the defending champion and No. 6 Poets into next week's state Class 1A final where they will go for their eighth title and their sixth in the eight years.
Two long touchdown strikes by sophomore quarterback William Crest in the first quarter set the tone for the Poets (11-2), who will meet the winner of Saturday's other 1A semifinal between Fort Hill and Perryville for the championship Dec. 3 at noon at M&T Bank Stadium.
Coach Lawrence Smith's Poets, who have outscored their three playoff opponents 142-18, used eight ball carriers Friday night at CCBC-Essex before emptying their bench in the fourth quarter. Lavar Highsmith, who had three third-quarter touchdown runs called back on holding penalties, managed to score anyway shortly after two of those flags. He scored on a 27-yard run full of nifty moves and then on a 7-yard jaunt that boosted the Poets' lead to 28-0.
Wide receiver DeonTay McManus, who had two catches for 61 yards and a touchdown, was the leading rusher too, running 10 times for 88 yards. Terrance Williams rushed five times for 79 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown off a fake punt for a 34-0 lead with 7:47 to go. Highsmith ran six times for 38 yards.
"Everybody contributed," Highsmith said. "We've got a lot of great running backs. I'm like a third-string running back, so I'm just happy to have my name being called. We've got Paki Brown, Jaquan Holt, Coleman Blackston, so when your name's called, you've just got to step up."
Dunbar ended a 16-game Falcons winning streak — the area's longest active streak. The Poets certainly gave Overlea some openings — four turnovers, four touchdowns called back and far too many penalties — but the Falcons were unable to take advantage.
The Falcons, 4-6 last season, struggled all night against a Dunbar defense that gave up 6.5 points per game this season and allowed only two teams to hit double figures. They managed just one first down in the first half, and their lone score came with 1:50 left in the game when quarterback Dequan Pettway hit Fyne Ndukwe with a 29-yard touchdown pass.
"They were big, strong, fast," Overlea coach Craig Rollins said of the Poets, "and they had multiple athletes in multiple positions. They tried to get pressure to the ball as fast as they could. A lot of senior leadership. They've been in big games like this before. It's our first time. The nerves got to us a little bit."
Early on, the game set up as a defensive standoff, but Crest found Ernest Hawkins with a 51-yard touchdown pass with two minutes left in the first quarter. Crest boosted the Poets' lead to 14-0 on their next drive with a 59-yard strike to McManus. Coleman Blackston ran in the conversion.
The Falcons had only one first-half first down against Dunbar's relentless defense. They also could not convert on Ndukwe's interception in the final seconds of the second quarter. Ndukwe had most of the Dunbar players beaten, but Crest atoned for the interception by forcing him out of bounds near the Poets' 20-yard line as time expired in the half.
D 14 0 14 14 -- 42
O 0 0 0 6 -- 6
D—Hawkins 51 pass from Crest (run failed)
D—McManus 59 pass from Crest (Blackston run)
D—Highsmith 27 run (Hawkins pass from Crest)
D—Highsmith 7 run (run failed)
D—T.Williams 45 run (run failed)
O—Ndukwe pass from Pettway (pass failed)
D—Jackson 12 fumble rec. (Miller pass from Johnson)