For Dunbar and Arundel, this weekend is about history. For Milford Mill, it’s about revenge.
Their respective journeys have been different, but the goal for each is the same: To win a football state championship.
Since the first day of practice in August, Milford Mill has talked about unfinished business after last year’s Class 2A final setback. Arundel, which won its only state crown in 1975, is looking for a breakthrough in its Class 4A/3A title game. And Dunbar, plain and simple, is aiming to maintain its excellence in defending its Class 2A/1A crown and complete a second straight perfect season.
Each of the three area teams is excited for their time at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, where six state title games open on Thursday and continue through Saturday. On Friday, No. 4 Milford Mill (13-0) takes on Kent Island (12-1) at 4 p.m. and No. 11 Arundel (10-2) follows against North Point (10-3) at 7:30. On Saturday, No. 3 Dunbar (12-0) meets Patuxent (11-2) at noon.
The Class 4A game — C.H. Flowers versus Quince Orchard — is set for Thursday at 7 p.m., while Mountain Ridge will play Fort Hill in the Class 1A final at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. The championship slate finishes with Damascus squaring off with Oakdale for the Class 3A crown Saturday at 7 p.m.
Milford Mill hopes to settle the score
It stung, that 29-14 loss to Douglass-PG in last year’s title game, and the Millers made sure it continued to sting.
The loss has been the added incentive for a senior-laden group determined to bring home the program’s second state crown and first since 1987.
On Friday, the Millers take a perfect record into their redemption game, taking on a scrappy Kent Island team making its first finals appearance.
Milford Mill is solid in all three phases, leading with a balanced offense that has taken whatever an opponent gives them. Senior running back Sean Williams Jr. is the catalyst with quarterback Deshawn Purdie and wide receiver Daysen Shell a dangerous combination.
Coach Reggie White liked what he saw from his group in the Millers’ 40-33 semifinal win over Stephen Decatur. The Millers were excited but aware the heavy lifting wasn’t finished.
“Our goal wasn’t to get to states; our goal is to win states,” White said. “So we still have work to do. The guys are focused, we’re putting our game plan together and they’re listening, they’re studying and I like our chances. We’re looking forward to the competition.”
The Buccaneers from Queen Anne’s County have senior leadership at key spots with a sturdy running back in Kasey Heath and quarterback in Tommy McAndrew. They grinded out a 14-7 win over Middletown to play for the state crown.
The Millers believe they can dictate play to get the momentous victory that eluded them last season.
“We’re throwing in some new wrinkles, but mostly we’re going to stay true to who we are,” White said.
Arundel looks to find its way
Defense and further resilience will have to carry the day for the Wildcats. With starting quarterback Gavin Kamachi lost for the season because of an injury, it’s been plug-and-play at the offense’s most important position. Meanwhile, the Wildcats defense has risen to the challenge.
In their sturdy 6-0 win over Dundalk in last week’s semifinals, their defense blanked a powerful offense that reached the 2021 championship game and averaged more than 30- points per contest this season.
Centered around nose tackle Abraham Olugbemi, linebackers Ray Chapman and Camden Neiswander and cornerback Ahier Tention — each of whome bring game-changing potential — the Wildcats will need a similar performance against North Point, which has outscored four playoff opponents by a whopping 133-0 margin.
“Our defense has been pretty strong for us all season and their effort against Dundalk was pretty impressive. They’re a huge component to why we’re still here, there’s no doubt about that,” Arundel coach Jack Walsh said.
With Kamachi out, the Wildcats have used running back Ahmad Taylor and wide receiver Andre Dotson under center. Last week, Taylor’s 20-yard touchdown score proved the difference. The Wildcats defense has not surrendered a touchdown since the second quarter of the state quarterfinals.
Walsh said stopping the run and limiting big plays on defense and taking care of the football on offense will give the Wildcats a chance at the program’s second state crown. He believes the intangibles are on his team’s side.
“Super tough group of kids we got — resilience is a great word to use,” he said. “They’re also highly intelligent kids that don’t panic under pressure. They kind of have a cerebral approach to it, which is sometimes hard to read. You expect them to be mashing teeth and banging heads and they’re just laid back, ready for the next play. It’s been a fun but different ride, for sure.”
Dunbar looks to make program history
The Poets are one win away from consecutive perfect seasons, which would be a first for a program that has won 11 state titles.
Staked with explosive playmakers, led by quarterback and 2021 Baltimore Sun All-Metro Offensive Player of the Year Devin Roche and running back Tristen Kenan, who have combined to produce a staggering 4,044 total yards on offense and 41 touchdowns, the Poets are poised to make it happen.
In their run to the title game, they’ve outscored their four opponents 232-19, including a 46-7 victory over Calvert in last week’s semifinals. Patuxent, which won its only state crown in 2015, lost to Calvert, 28-14, in a regular-season game on Oct. 14.
In preparation, Dunbar coach Lawrence Smith and his team are taking nothing for granted.
“At the start of the playoffs, I explained to them that last year we were the hunter — we were hungry and won it — and this year we’re the hunted, and everybody is going for the king. That’s what it is,” he said. “So we take everything game by game and we feel that it’s not about the other team, it’s about us.”
The Poets have enjoyed the same competitiveness and success in the classroom, with Smith preaching the grind on the gridiron and work in the classroom go hand in hand.
The team has a combined 3.1 GPA with lineman Josh Fedd heading the school’s senior class with a 4.25 GPA. Of the 18 seniors, 11 have Division I scholarship offers with Roche (Old Dominion) and wide receiver-safety Tony Hart (Elon) already committed.
Smith has been taking calls from coaches from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Navy, Army and Penn, among others.
“I’ve had a lot of great players, but I’ve never talked to coaches from these schools. So as much as we win on the field, if we didn’t have kids going to college it would be like we were using them,” he said. “I met with my senior parents a couple weeks ago and told them to take a bow because this is big time here.”