ANNAPOLIS — The Dunbar Poets didn’t waste much time Saturday afternoon.
And in the end the Fort Hill Sentinels ran out of time, as their record-tying four-year reign as Class 1A football state champions came to a halt, 30-26, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
In a battle between two programs that have combined to win eight straight and 11 of the last 12 Class 1A state titles, Dunbar came out on top with big plays on offense and a defense that gave up 26 points in the first half but none in the second to win its 10th state crown.
The Poets finished the season with a 12-1 record. Fort Hill, which was going for a state record fifth consecutive state title, ended up 12-2.
“Our kids played hard. All the time they play hard,” Fort Hill coach Todd Appel said. “We kind of got out-athleted today on big plays. I’m very happy with our kids for the way they played … not just tonight, but the way they played all year, and for the seniors, the way they played all four years of their careers.
Jared Lewis completed 7 of 17 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns for Dunbar, of Baltimore. Ryan Wood caught three passes for 101 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, and Raekwon Walker had four catches for 88 yards.
Troy Banks ran 35 times for 153 yards and a touchdown and Brayden Poling had a touchdown run and caught a touchdown pass from Logan Johnson for Fort Hill.
In stark contrast all day, it was Dunbar’s speed and athleticism against Fort Hill’s power and might. The Poets scored on drives measured in seconds; Fort Hill, in minutes.
Dunbar scored on a 68-yard run, and 63-, 60- and 87-yard pass plays, and Fort Hill on 69-, 77-, and 80-yard drives.
A 25-yard drive after a short Dunbar punt gave Fort Hill’s its first lead, 23-16, with 8:16 left in the first half, and a 46-yard field goal by Danny King in the final minute gave the Sentinels a 26-22 halftime lead.
But after a 48-point first half, only eight points were scored in the second. They came with Dunbar backed up to its own 13 after a punt and penalty. On a second-and-20, Jared Lewis tossed a short pass to wide receiver Wood, who got by one defender, broke free from another and sprinted 87 yards for the touchdown with 2:47 left in the third quarter.
“We wanted the 1-on-1 matchups. We felt once we got our guys out in space they wouldn’t be able to contain us,” said Dunbar coach Lawrence Smith. “That’s a play Ryan’s made all year. And it just came at a time when we needed it.”
What Dunbar also needed was a way to stop Fort Hill’s ground game. They got that in the second half, too. The Sentinels, who ran 34 times for165 yards in the first half, ran 23 times for 42 in the second.
“To shut down Fort Hill’s offense the whole second half was the key,” said Smith. “We felt we found the defense that could shut them down. We were going to sell out. Sell out and force them to throw the ball. They were going to have to throw the ball to beat us because we were going to sell out and stop the run,.
“We wanted to load the box with our quickness. We were going to match up on the tight end and receiver and make them one-dimensional. Try to take them out of their comfort zone. It was the adjustment we felt we wanted to make at halftime. And it worked.”
The Sentinels lost a fumble, their second turnover of the day, on the fourth play of the second half and the Poets drove to the Fort Hill 12. But a defensive stand by Fort Hill, which included big tackles by Wyatt Brehm and Luke Hamilton on first down, Carter Swan on second, and a sack by Kaleb Harden and Braeden Smith on third, stopped Dunbar at the 26.
A three-and-out and 38-yard punt by King had the Poets backed up to their own 23, and after an offensive pass interference penalty, they were at their 13 when Lewis and Wood pulled off the 87-yard touchdown play.
The Sentinels had two more possessions. One ended with a punt from midfield early in the fourth; the other on an interception by Rashad Williams at the Dunbar 33 with 2:13 left.
“They made good adjustments at halftime,” Appel said. “They went into more of a 6- or 7-man front, and looked at No. 5 (Banks) a lot more. They stopped the run. But our kids, except of that one big play, our kids played pretty good defense, too.
“We made adjustments. They made adjustments. But they won 8-0 in the second half.”
The first half was full of offense.
Dunbar’s Andre Brandon scored on the first play from scrimmage, his only carry of the day, a 68-yard run, and Lewis hit Desmond Jackson for the conversion and 8-0 lead only 19 seconds into the game.
Fort Hill went 69 yards in eight plays and tied it when Johnson hit Poling on a 21-yard touchdown pass. On a fake kick, Blake Beal tossed to Braeden Smith for the conversion with 7:46 left in the quarter.
Dunbar went 77 yards in four plays and 1:24, retaking the lead on a 63-yard inside screen pass from Lewis to Jackson. Lewis ran for the conversion to make it 16-8 with 6:17 left in the first.
Fort Hill tied it again with a 12-play, 77-yard march that ate up 6:17 and ended with a 17-yard run by Poling. This time, on an option, Poling tossed a short pass to Johnson for the conversion and it was 16-all just six seconds into the second quarter.
A 21-yard Dunbar punt led to Fort Hill needing to go only 25 yards to take the lead. The Sentinels covered the 25 yards in five plays, with Banks, who had 22 carries and 127 yards in the first half, powering in from the four with 8:16 to go. Ryan Hipp’s kick made it 23-16.
That was answered by yet another quick touchdown by the Poets, this one a 60-yard pass from Lewis to Walker. The conversion failed, leaving Fort Hill up 23-22 midway through the quarter.
The only other points of the half was a 46-yard field goal by King, a sophomore, whose kick capped a 5:53 possession with 46 seconds left in the half.
The loss ended Fort Hill’s state record 19-game postseason winning streak. The Sentinels share the record for most consecutive state championships with Urbana.
“Our guys work hard. They play hard, and they play unselfishly,” Appel said. “They never quit. They beat a team from Florida this year, and in overtime beat Lackey, a good opponent. They played a magnet school in Friendship Collegiate Academy.
“They never thought they couldn’t win. They just kept playing. Everyone saw that again tonight. Maybe if there were another five minutes on the clock, maybe they had a chance.”
Wyatt Brehm had eight tackles, five solos and two for loss, to lead the Fort Hill defense. Swan had six and Hamilton five. Harden had four tackles and 1.5 sacks. Dwayne Johnson had 10 tackles and Domenic Smith nine tackles and two sacks for Dunbar.
Follow Mike Mathews on Twitter @MikeMathewsCTN.
Fort Hill falls to Dunbar in state championship game, 30-26. Game story: https://t.co/wT9UsZ6C8H— Mike Mathews (@MikeMathewsCTN) December 3, 2017
Final: Dunbar 30, Fort Hill 26. #CTNFF— Mike Mathews (@MikeMathewsCTN) December 2, 2017
Dunbar 1st down, less than 1:00 to go #CTNFF— Mike Mathews (@MikeMathewsCTN) December 2, 2017