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Dunbar football rues early mistakes in 31-8 loss to Catoctin in 1A state championship game

The first half grew into a nightmare that never seemed to end for the Dunbar football team on Saturday. In those first two quarters, the Poets threw four interceptions, lost two fumbles, had a 6-yard punt and committed eight penalties, and those miscues helped Catoctin score 31 points by halftime.

Those first-half mistakes pushed No. 5 Dunbar into a deep early hole that proved too hard to climb out of. The Poets did not turn the ball over in the second half, but Catoctin had already taken command en route to a 31-8 victory in the Class 1A state championship game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

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Dunbar (11-2) was trying for an 11th state title. Overall, no Baltimore-area schools won a state title this year, the first time that’s happened since 2016.

The Poets’ first-half mistakes gave Catoctin (13-1) great field position several times. Those turnovers turned into 16 points, put Dunbar in trouble and helped the Cougars to their second state crown.

“Putting them in good field position [hurt],” Dunbar coach Lawrence Smith said. “With a team like that, you can’t put them in short fields. That really hurt us.”

The Cougars did a good job on defense of slowing the Dunbar passing game. They often found their way into the passing lanes — a big reason for the first first-half interceptions — or pressured quarterback Karon Moore.

He simply did not have the time to throw or find open receivers, and that slowed the Poets offense.

“They were just making plays [on defense],” Moore said. “They were doing a good job covering. They were doing a good job all around.”

Catoctin coach Doug Williams said the Poets’ mistakes helped his team take command quickly and proved crucial.

“The turnovers are monstrous,” Williams said. “In a big game like this, where two teams are evenly matched, turnovers change things fast, and that’s what happened.”

Dunbar fumbled on the first play of the game, and Catoctin recovered at the Poets’ 38. The Cougars then drove for a field goal and a 3-0 lead. After that came the 6-yard punt after the next series that let Catoctin start at the Dunbar 29.

Carson Sickeri then ran for a touchdown on the next play. He ran for a 2-point conversion for an 11-0 lead just over five minutes into the game. Sickeri then picked off Moore in the end zone on the next series, and the Cougars drove 83 yards for a touchdown and a 17-0 lead.

Moore got picked off on each of the next two series. The first interception didn’t lead to anything, but Brendan Ott returned the second one for a 27-yard touchdown and a 24-0 lead with 8:14 left in the first half.

Moore threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Deairus Carr on the next possession. Dion Crews-Harris ran for a 2-point conversion that cut the lead to 24-8. Catoctin scored on its next series and then recovered a Dunbar fumble at the Cougars’ 18 in the final minutes of the first half and held the 31-8 halftime lead.

Sickeri finished with 141 of his 207 yards rushing in the first half as he kept finding holes to get through. Dunbar did a better job of quieting him in the second half, blanking the Cougars, but the damage was done.

“He’s small dude, so we could close a hole, but you’ve got to completely fill it for him not to get through,” Dunbar linebacker Crews-Harris said. “He’s pretty fast so you can’t give him any open field or missed tackles.”

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Dunbar has several players who will be returning next season, and Smith said that this painful loss should motivate them to do better in 2020.

Simply put, the Poets made too many mistakes in the first half, and that proved very costly.

“When you turn the ball over as much as we turned the ball over today, you won’t beat the worst teams,” Smith said. “I know my guys don’t want this taste in their mouth. They’re not used to this taste in their mouth, so I know they’re going to take this and go forward with it.”

C 11 20 0 0- 31

D 0 8 0 0- 8

C — Granados 29 FG

C — Sickeri 29 run (Sickeri run)

C — Fields 24 pass from Orr (kick failed)

C — Ott 27 interception return (Granados kick)

D — D. Carr 42 pass from Moore (Crews-Harris run)

C — Fields 29 pass from Orr (Granados kick)

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