By Jeff Seidel, Special to The Sun
Dunbar struggled with mistakes in the first half of its Class 1A South regional final at Poly on Saturday. Bad snaps on punts and fumbles slowed the Poets early, helping set up two Forest Park touchdowns and causing Dunbar plenty of aggravation in the early minutes.
But No. 14 Dunbar eventually settled down after the slow start. The Poets still had problems with other mistakes, but big plays helped them score the game's final 24 points en route to a 32-12 victory over Forest Park.
Dunbar (11-1) advances to the Class 1A state semifinal next Saturday against Fort Hill at Poly. The two teams have met twice in state title games, with the Poets winning each time.
The Poets were able to survive because they crushed Forest Park (11-1) with big plays, especially in the first half, which helped them take the lead for good despite those early miscues.
"We were a little sloppy today," Dunbar coach Lawrence Smith said. "[But] this time of the year, you want to survive and move on."
The key to the game was how the Poets answered their mistakes with those big plays. The second bad snap on a punt in the first quarter gave the Foresters possession at the Dunbar 4-yard line, and quarterback Andrew Allen scored on a 1-yard sneak four plays later for a 6-0 lead early in the second period.
But Dunbar quarterback Kevin Estep threw a 79-yard touchdown pass to Travon Garrett on the next play from scrimmage. Estep tossed a pass to Ernest Hawkins for the two-point conversion and an 8-6 lead.
The touchdown pass was deflected, but Garrett grabbed it and took off for the end zone.
"It went to the side a little, and I had to hustle to get it," Garrett said. "[Then] I was gone."
Estep fumbled when sacked later in the quarter, and Forest Park recovered at the Dunbar 49. Four plays afterward, Allen threw a short pass that Arraheem Dedmon turned into a 43-yard touchdown for a 12-8 Forest Park lead.
But Dunbar didn't trail long — LaVar Highsmith returned the ensuing kickoff for an 80-yard touchdown. Epe Henriques ran for the conversion and a 16-12 lead. The Poets never trailed again.
They put it away with a pair of second-half touchdowns. Coleman Blackston ran for a 2-yard score, and Leo Eades threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to DeonTay McManus. Dunbar's offense never got on a roll, finishing with just 171 yards.
But the defense made life tough for Allen and Forest Park. The Poets finished with six sacks and repeatedly hit Allen, who rarely had much time to throw the ball, especially in the second half, when Forest Park mustered only four first downs. The Foresters also had only six offensive linemen and were slowed by injuries. The Foresters have only 27 players on their roster, and things got worse when wide receiver Chidi Flowers suffered a serious knee injury early in the game.
"They knew we couldn't pass block well, and they took advantage of it," Forest Park coach Damon Bomar said. "We couldn't move it."