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December 4, 2010

Poet Pride: Dunbar storms back for 7th state title

BALTIMORE - Before the Dunbar Poets exited M&T Bank Stadium with their seventh state championship trophy, the players gathered together and formed a tight circle. Together, as one, they raised their helmets high and began a ritual chant that came to define their season:

One team! One vision! Am I my brother's keeper? Am I my brother's keeper? Yes I am! Yes I am!

Maybe more than any Dunbar team in recent history, this squad needed their brothers. They weren't as talented as last year's squad that underachieved and fell short of the ultimate goal. They weren't as experienced as the 2008 championship team that featured all-world running back Tavon Austin. And they weren't as finely tuned and fundamentally sound as the great Poets teams that won three state titles from 2006-2008.

And yet, the No. 15 Dunbar Poets (13-1) are class 1A state champions.

They are champions despite having to storm back from a 12-point halftime deficit for an emphatic 22-12 victory over No. 25 Havre de Grace (11-2). They are champions despite turning the ball over five times and gaining just 23 total yards and one first down in the first half. They are champions despite having their secondary ripped apart by Warriors quarterback Darin Washington (139 yards, two touchdowns), their linebackers pushed around by running back Michael Kelly (147 yards) and their blockers embarrassed by cornerback Monty Werts (two sacks, three forced fumbles).

"Our kids stayed together; our kids are a family," said Dunbar coach Lawrence Smith, who has now won two state titles since taking over for the late Ben Eaton in 2007. "These kids love their school -- they love Dunbar. They want to come back to that gym, where so many great names are up on the wall, and see their name up their, too. This is what they fought for."

Am I my brother's keeper?

Yes, said Dunbar running back Epe Henriques, who totaled 196 yards of offense and spurred the Poets' comeback. With his team mired in a 12-0 hole, Henriques turned the tide.

Late in the third quarter, after Dunbar had turned the ball over for the fifth time, Henriques took a pitch on a double reverse. But instead of running around end, he cocked his arm and unleashed a bomb. Receiver Andre Davis made a mid-route adjustment and hauled it in over his left shoulder. He then out-ran the Havre de Grace cornerback for a touchdown.

Suddenly, all the fumbles, missed blocks and bonehead plays were forgotten. Dunbar was back in the game.

"We needed a play because we were struggling, turning the ball over," said receiver Deontay McManus, who turned the ball over twice himself in the first half. "All we needed was that little spark and we knew we'd be rolling. Epe got us started. He picked us up."

Am I my brother's keeper?

Yes, said senior linebacker Travon Garrett. With the Poets down 12-6 in the fourth quarter, he watched his offense stall inside Havre de Grace territory, failing to capitalize on terrific field position. But instead of punting on 4th-and-11, Garrett told his coach he wanted to win the game.

"Havre de Grace called a timeout and my coach asked me if I still wanted to try the fake punt," Garrett said. "I said, 'I got you Coach. Give me the ball.' I saw the crease open up and I took it right downfield."

Thirty-five yards later, Dunbar had it 1st-and-goal from the Havre de Grace 2-yard line. Destiny awaited.

Am I my brother's keeper?

Yes, said Dunbar quarterback Kevin Estep. The sophomore signal caller is just 5-feet-4 and about 135 pounds, but he has the heart of a giant. Despite fumbling twice early on, Estep never lost confidence. With the ball at the Warriors' 2, he looked his teammates in the eyes and assured them they would score.

"I told my seniors I would not let them leave here without a championship ring," Estep said. "I told them I wouldn't let them down. I told them to give me the ball -- I'll get it done."

He did just that. Estep snuck in right behind center Marlon Gross, tying the game at 12. After Henriques converted the two-point after attempt, the Poets had their first lead, 14-12, with 9:01 left in the game.

Am I my brother's keeper?

Yes, said fullback Charles Brown. The senior fullback paved the way for Henriques in the second half, where he picked up 112 of his 115 rushing yards.

With the ball at the Dunbar 36, Brown blasted a hole the size of a pickup truck as Henriques dashed 32 yards off left tackle. The Poets followed up with the same play. This time Brown cleared out a linebacker as Henriques huffed and puffed his way past the Warriors secondary for a 38-yard touchdown run. After the successful two-point conversion, Dunbar had a 22-12 advantage with six minutes to go.

Game over.

"I give all the credit to my offensive line and my fullback," Henriques said. "My fullback did a great job leading me through the hole. I trust in him and I believe in him. He told me to follow him to the end zone."

Am I my brother's keeper?

Yes, said the Dunbar fans, who packed the stands at M&T Bank. Soon after Henriques iced the game and Estep took a final kneel down, Dunbar's faithful began to chant Steam's infamous victory song, "Kiss Him Goodbye."

Moments later, the Poets players raced over and embraced their avid followers. Travon Garrett, a senior who had just played his final high school game, stood back, soaking in the moment.

"I'm going out with a bang, but this isn't over," Garrett said. "This is the start of a new legacy at Dunbar. I told the young guys, you're coming right back here next year."

Am I my brother's keeper?

Yes. For the Dunbar brotherhood lives on.


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