Damascus didn’t find itself in many long yardage situations during Friday night’s Class 3A semifinal at River Hill, but the Hornets had a special play in their book for the rare occurrence: a handoff to Dillon Dunathan.
It’s actually the same go-to play Damascus uses on short yardage, first downs and just about any other situation. It works.
Dunathan rushed for 249 yards and four touchdowns on 26 carries in Damascus’ 42-7 win over River Hill.
“The physicality of our O-line, just getting the push every play,” Dunathan said, “every play we’re going and going on until we get in that end zone.”
Damascus advances to next week’s state championship game against Oakdale, while River Hill closes its season at 10-2.
“Got to give a lot of credit to Damascus, great team,” River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen said. “We knew it was not the best matchup for us. We’re a smaller, quicker team and they came out and they just came out double tight with their size up front and their size in the backfield, [Dunathan] is a great running back, it was really frustrating because we knew what was coming, we just couldn’t stop them.”
Dunathan’s biggest run came on the Hornets’ first second-half possession. A holding penalty and a fumbled snap left them facing third-and-15, but Dunathan took the ball, got through the line, made a cut and rushed 60 yards for a touchdown that made it 34-7.
“Our O-line loves blocking for him, being big and physical and nasty,” Damascus coach Josh Klotz said. “Game plan is always to run the ball and stop the run, especially this week against such a dynamic offense. So it was nice to do that.”
To say Dunathan, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound bruiser who’s fielding Football Championship Subdivision offers according to his coach, is a workhorse is an understatement. On the game’s first possession, Damascus went 80 yards on eight Dunathan carries, finishing with a 4-yard touchdown run.
“When we can just run the ball every time and just keep moving down the field, 7, 4, 10 yards whatever it takes, we’ll keep running it,” Dunathan said.
A blocked punt gave Damascus the ball back on River Hill’s 15. Three Dunathan rushes later and it was 14-0. After another Rive Hill three-and-out, Damascus on its third drive finally went to someone other than Dunathan, as Michael Cooley capped an 11-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
“We know with the line we got and the backs we got, ... we felt that was a big part of the game plan, just lining up and pounding the ball,” Klotz said. “Our guys executed, especially there in the first three drives to take the game over.”
River Hill was able to string a couple first downs together on its next drive, but for the second time in three possessions, it had a punt blocked and Damascus took over with a short field.
“Our punt return coordinator, Lamarcus Brutus, thought we could get after it this week, but I think it’s more the infectious energy those guys have,” Klotz said. “They’re playing for each other and they love playing in that unit for Coach Brutus. Just happened that this was the game they were able to break through. Will Terry blocked one and Aidan Brant blocked the other and they were having fun out there.”
Dunathan followed with his third touchdown for a 28-0 lead. He had 177 rushing yards in the first half.
“We tried to switch some stuff up, again, we’re not big, so we got to go on our blitzes and bringing pressure,” Van Deusen said. “With their size up front, we were just outmatched up front where they were able to get to our backers and now our safeties making a lot of tackles and that’s not good.”
River Hill got a spark right before halftime. Quarterback Omar Hassan eluded pressure in the backfield and found Matthew Behrmann open for a 49-yard touchdown to make it 28-7 at the break.
“Our guys played hard,” Van Deusen said. “We made a play there, gave us a little spark, thinking we’re getting the ball in the second half. If we could’ve put something there together, maybe get to 28-14, maybe that gives us a little momentum.”
The Hawks got the ball to open the second half but went three-and-out. Dunathan and Cooley each scored touchdowns for Damascus to make it 42-7 after three quarters.
Friday marked the final game for 20 River Hill seniors who helped lead a big turnaround for the program this year.
“Great group of seniors,” Van Deusen said. “We were 5-0 in the [spring 2021 season], 6-5 last year but they really turned it around this year.”