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No. 5 Dunbar football runs past Lackey, 50-17, to reach Class 2A/1A state title game

Reaching the state title game has long been the norm for the Dunbar football team. This year has been different for the No. 5 Poets, who came into the season with only one starter from the 2019 state runner-up team.

Despite the lack of experience and the year-long layoff, a new group was determined to maintain the old standards.

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One practice and one game at a time, Dunbar will take a 12-0 mark into next weekend’s Class 2A/1A state championship game after a 50-17 semifinal win over visiting Lackey, the latest quality performance in a determined season.

The Poets will be making their 14th state title game appearance and seeking their 11th title when they take on No. 12 South Carroll in Saturday’s state championship game, set for noon at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis. The Cavaliers — a 14-13 winner over Harford Tech on Friday — also will take a perfect 12-0 record into the final.

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On Saturday, the Poets’ running game significantly outproduced Lackey’s running game, which proved the difference. Junior quarterback Devin Roche ran for 214 yards and three touchdowns and finished off two 2-point conversions. Running back Dashawn Parks also ran for two scores and Tristan Keenan added one, too.

“The whole time, it’s been not looking past any opponent. Our mantra for the whole season was ‘Kill a fly with a sledge hammer’ and we’ve been keeping that up every week, not underestimating anybody,” said Roche, who also completed all eight of his passes for 94 yards.

The Chargers from Charles County came into the game with their own dominant running game and it showed during the opening possession. They went 59 yards on seven plays, with Corey Anderson’s 24-yard run providing a 7-0 lead.

But the Poets were quick to respond, needing under three minutes to take an 8-7 lead when Keenan scored from 5 yards out to complete a six-play, 73-yard drive with Parks running in the 2-point conversion.

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The Poets made adjustments on defense — stacking the line with Ebubedike Nnabugwu playing a key role — to stop the Chargers’ running game.

After the visitors closed within 28-17 with 1:27 to play in the first half, Roche completed two passes for 32 yards and then scampered 36 yards for a touchdown, converting the 2-point conversion to give the Poets a 36-17 halftime lead. Getting the ball to start the third quarter, the Poets put the game away with a nine-play, 65-yard drive that was capped by a 3-yard run from Parks for a 42-17 advantage.

The one-dimensional Chargers, who only threw three times despite the large deficit, simply couldn’t keep up.

After the game, Dunbar coach Lawrence Smith addressed his team in the middle of the field, talking about the long week ahead in preparation of the season’s last and biggest game: “We’re going to finish our destination.”

In between the disappointment of losing to Catoctin in the 2019 Class 1A title game and this season’s 52-0 opening win against Digital Harbor on Sept. 3, the Poets did all they could to get ready for next Saturday. During the offseason, the coaches and players had virtual meetings to learn the offensive and defensive systems. And when the weight room opened, the Poets hit it hard.

“It means so much. This is Dunbar,” Smith said. “I tell the kids all the time, I get scared they may get complacent because they are just so used to winning … So I just got to try to keep our kids motivated to keep that chip on their shoulder and do what they got to do.”

Through 12 wins, it’s worked. Roche doesn’t see anything changing next weekend.

“Just keep playing together like we’ve been all season — that’s all it is,” he said. “It’s states, but it’s still the same game. Everybody is going to stick together and we’ll be good.”

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