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Dunbar quarterback Karon Moore drops back and looks for the open receiver in the first half of Friday night's Class 1A state quarterffnal game against Perryville at Dunbar. User Upload Caption: Dunbar vs Perryville Class 1A football at Dunbar.
Dunbar quarterback Karon Moore drops back and looks for the open receiver in the first half of Friday night's Class 1A state quarterffnal game against Perryville at Dunbar. User Upload Caption: Dunbar vs Perryville Class 1A football at Dunbar. (Matt Button / Baltimore Sun Medi / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Dunbar has won 10 state championships in football. That’s why the Poets have been played in so many big games over the years.

Yet it’s also why things can be more difficult for No. 5 Dunbar. The Poets are back in the Class 1A state semifinal Saturday, hosting Cambridge-South Dorchester at 1 p.m., and Dunbar coach Lawrence Smith knows the visiting Vikings will come out breathing fire.

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That’s why Smith and his coaches have been pushing Dunbar (11-1) hard throughout the postseason and especially this week.

“You’ve just got to keep preparing,” Smith said. “You’re going to get everyone’s best game.”

Plus, Smith said he and his staff must keep the Poets, who usually find their way deep into the state playoffs, motivated.

“[Our success] is a gift and a curse,” Smith said. “My guys, they’ve been there so much; we’ve got to keep them hungry. We’ve got to constantly keep preparing and take it game by game.”

Dunbar made it to the state semifinals last year where it lost to Douglass of Prince George’s County. The Poets won the state title the season before in 2017.

The Dunbar offense can hurt teams by the air and ground. Dunbar runs the spread, and the Poets like to throw. Quarterback Karon Moore (sophomore) completed 128 of 204 passes for 1,750 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first year as a starter.

Wide receiver Tyreek Sykes topped Dunbar with 49 catches for 737 yards and five touchdowns. He caught two touchdowns in last week’s 38-0 victory over Perryville in the state quarterfinal.

“We work hard in practice, and it shows in the game,” Sykes said last week. “We stay together. We practice hard, and we come out here and win. We all know if you get down, you start to play like you’re scared."

Moore accounted for five touchdowns in that win, including catching a scoring pass. But the Poets also can move the ball on the ground. Dion Crews-Harris led the ground game with 854 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns.

The defense gets help from players such as defensive end Joshua Carr (DE) and defensive tackle Diallo Gainey as the Poets run a 3-3-5 format. They’ll need to slow a Cambridge-SD offense that uses the wing-T to run often and rolled to a 36-26 victory over Edmondson-Westside in the quarterfinals last week.

The Vikings’ running attack is led by Khalik Beasley, who has totaled 1,396 yards and 20 touchdowns. Cameron Lake has added 722 yards and eight touchdowns rushing. The Vikings have averaged throwing the ball just over eight times per game, so Dunbar needs to slow the run.

Smith said his team is going to have to play sound defense against Cambridge-SD (10-2) if they want to win and return to the championship game for the first time in two years. The bad news for Dunbar’s opponents in the future is that this is a team composed mostly of sophomores and juniors — 90%, according to Smith.

The best might be yet to come for Dunbar but the Poets have played consistently all season long, despite being young, something Mervo coach Patrick Nixon noticed.

“They’re so good because they are well prepared,” Nixon said. “They are physical and athletic. Most importantly, they know who they are — they believe [in themselves].”

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Class 1A state semifinal

CAMBRIDGE-SD (10-2) AT DUNBAR (11-1)

Saturday, 1 p.m.

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