When observers of Poly's football team discuss its big-play potential, the talk usually centers on speedy Engineers running back Greg Kyler.
Kyler entered yesterday's 12-6 victory over No. 15 Dunbar with 235 rushing yards and vaunted 4.4-second 40-yard -- speed, but was held to 64 yards on 10 carries by the host Poets (2-1).
And after first Arthur Peace, then Kyler dropped passes in the end zone seconds before halftime, the game remained tied at 6 and it appeared the No. 2-ranked Engineers (3-0) lacked the necessary heroics to win.
Enter unheralded lineman Sebastian Smothers, 5 feet 9, 215 pounds.
Late in the third period of a game played on Dunbar's rain-slicked "Sugar" Cain Field, Dunbar was driving on a first-and-10 at Poly's 45.
Poets 6-7 quarterback Rodney Elliott barely had taken the snap from center when a hit from Poly's Rashaad Kitchen jarred the ball loose, sending it bouncing backward toward Dunbar's end zone and setting the stage for Smothers.
"The ball [was loose] and I never thought about just falling on it. I just scooped it and ran," said Smothers, whose 34-yard touchdown return with two minutes left in the period held up for the win. "The game being this close, I just had to go for it."
Brown also helped second-team All-Metro lineman Joe Brown (6-0, 280) in his battle against Dunbar's 6-5, 325-pound second-team All-Metro Derrick Player.
"No. 79 [Player] was a big boy, so we alternated on him," said Smothers.
Poly also succeeded in slowing Dunbar's Johney Sawyer (11 carries, 37 yards), who entered the game with 147 yards.
"The defense bailed us out big time," Brown said. "Dunbar came out hitting hard and ready to play, but we won it in the trenches."
Few expected Dunbar to challenge a former Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference power like Poly, despite being the B Conference runner-up at 10-1 with seven shutouts last year.
In Poly coach Augie Waibel's 27 seasons he had played Dunbar just once, winning, 36-6, in 1988. And since Poly had outscored its two previous opponents by 97-6, Dunbar's first-year coach Stanley Mitchell admitted fearing "the blowout."
But his Poets (148 yards of offense) held the Engineers to 109 offensive yards.
Defensively, second-team All-Metro linebacker Tommy Polley and Dante Jones combined for a sack of Poly's Charles English, Sean Lipscomb batted down a sure touchdown pass to Kyler, and Nathan Brown and Alli Culpepper each recovered fumbles.
"We didn't quit, we just made a few mistakes and they capitalized on them," said Mitchell.
Dunbar upset then-No. 13 Randallstown, 18-9, in its season opener before a 20-0 shutout of Wicomico, a playoff team last year.
"We're emotionally down and drained right now, but we played a high-spirited game," Mitchell said. "We still haven't played four good quarters yet."
Kyler's backfield mate, Louis Randall (12 carries, 35 yards), gave the Engineers a 6-0 lead with his 6-yard run a little more than nine minutes before halftime thanks to a defensive effort by Troy Brown.
The Poets faced third-and-eight early in the second quarter when Brown sacked Elliott at the Dunbar 2.
Kyler returned the punt 25 yards to the Dunbar 10, setting up Randall's runs of 4 and 6 yards, the latter for the score.
Five minutes later, defensive efforts by Polley and Culpepper set up the game-tying, 6-yard run by the Poets' Kim Kent (nine carries, 51 yards).
Standing deep in Poly territory, the Engineers' Gary Richardson bobbled a punt long enough for Polley to get there for the hit. The ball rolled free and Culpepper smothered it at the Poly 15.
"He hit me when I didn't have control," said Richardson. "The ball was so wet, I had a hard time holding on."