Dunbar didn't get off to the start it expected against second-ranked Mount St. Joseph yesterday. The No. 9 Poets fumbled the opening kickoff, which the Gaels turned into a touchdown.
But like last season - when Dunbar recovered from a 1-4 start to reach the state 2A championship game - the Poets staged another recovery, overcoming errors and a Gaels' comeback attempt for a 22-19 victory.
Poets linebacker Alan Nelson recovered a fumble by Issac Kufuor at the Dunbar 9-yard line with 35 seconds remaining, helping preserve the victory and give new coach Ben Eaton his first victory.
Eaton's initial triumph was on the verge of bitter defeat as Mount St. Joseph almost rallied from a 22-6 halftime deficit against an exhausted Dunbar defense.
On third-and-four from the Poets 8, quarterback Andy Michalowicz pitched the ball to Kufuor, who went wide to his left. He was met by D'Andre Hudson and Omari Washington, who knocked the ball out, and Nelson fell on it.
"We got winded and had to spell our kids in the second half, and they took advantage," said Eaton. whose team had four turnovers "We were able to keep down long enough, and did what we had to do to win."
During a timeout before the decisive play, Eaton wanted to play in a zone, but his defenders wanted to blitz. Eaton agreed.
"We were looking at the score, then they starting coming back, and emotionally we were going down," said Washington, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound outside linebacker. "Some of the players were playing like the game was over, so we had to stick in there and play like we were behind."
It wasn't long yesterday before Dunbar was trailing as Tyrel Henderson's fumble was returned 12 yards by Glen Littlefield, giving Mount St. Joseph a 6-0 lead.
Then the Poets started making big plays. Chris Barnes stripped Mount St. Joseph punt returner Robert Abiamiri of the ball and went 55 yards for a score and 14-6 Dunbar lead, Henderson caught a 49-yard touchdown pass with 1:58 left in the first half to make it 22-66.
The Gaels got back in the game later in the third quarter as Kufuor (80 yards rushing) returned a punt 60 yards, leading to a 4-yard run by Shakech Somorin with 58 seconds remaining.
Michalowicz (131 passing, 70 rushing), also a Super Prep All-Mid Atlantic pick, threw a 37-yard scoring pass to Travis Wells, bringing Mount St. Joseph to 22-19 with 8:39 left in the game.
"What we wanted to do was to try wear Dunbar down because we felt we were better conditioned and we play more kids," said Mount St. Joseph coach Mike Working, whose team beat Dunbar in last season's opener "We didn't really do that and made some bad decisions, but they came back in the second half and they dominated."