Forget Archbishop Carroll's 1-5 record entering the game.
"Of our six games, this was the toughest," said Dunbar running back Ali Culpepper.
Culpepper, a junior, helped the No. 2 Poets (5-1) overcome the visiting Lions (1-6), a traditional Washington power, 24-12, yesterday, but only after being held to five of his 61 yards in the first half.
And were it not for 150-pound sophomore Dalnell Singfield, the Poets (262 total yards) might be staring at loss No. 2. Singfield's 7-yard touchdown reception from Anthony Wiggins (5-for-11, 89 yards) made it 6-0 just over two minutes into the game, and he returned an interception 66 yards for another score with 2:05 left in the third period.
"Looking back, both of those were critical," said Singfield, who helped vanquish a team ranked No. 3 in the Washington area during the preseason.
Calling it "a relief" to get a score with 5:02 left in the third period, Culpepper said the Poets initially were troubled by Carroll's size, with Johnny Lawrence (6-4, 275), Jason Entzminger (6-7, 285) and Ike Ihejeto (6-6, 240).
"They did a good job of stacking their linebackers and stunting," said Culpepper, who has 863 yards and eight touchdowns.
His 4-yard scoring run capped an 11-play, 83-yard drive, and the first of his two conversion runs made it 16-6. Tailback Brett Thomas rushed three times for 27 yards in the drive.
Linebacker-tight end Tommy Polley finished with two interceptions, two sacks and two receptions for 39 yards, helping to limit the visitors to 140 total yards. He sacked junior David Nichols for a safety with 1:09 left in the first half, giving Dunbar an 8-6 lead.
"I think it [the safety] was a big turning point that gave us the gap we needed," said Polley, who for the season has eight sacks, six interceptions and 22 receptions for 296 yards. "They were a big team, but we made too many mistakes ourselves."
Sophomore Jason Boyce rushed for 33 yards, had a sack and an interception; junior Imani Green had a sack; and junior Antar Simsel a fumble recovery, but the defense also broke down on occasion.
Dunbar allowed Nichols to turn a busted play into a 42-yard touchdown, capping an eight-play, 66-yard drive to tie the game at 6 early in the second quarter.
And leading 24-6 with 5:35 left in the game, the Dunbar secondary allowed junior Waldo Johnson to slip behind it, where Nichols found him near the Poets' sideline at the 25. Johnson raced in untouched from there.
"We stopped the run and took away their game plan, but our linemen allowed them to dictate too much to us instead of shooting to their wide gaps," said Dunbar coach Stanley Mitchell.
"Take nothing from Carroll, which played well on both sides of the ball, but they were tailor-made for us and we didn't capitalize."
Dunbar's offense often self-destructed, including once on a fumble, once on an interception at the Carroll 8 and another when Wiggins, who covered 53 yards on his keeper, was dragged down at the 11 to end the first half.