Up only 16-11 with less than three minutes to go, Dunbar turned to its best player.
Dunbar was hoping to put away Perryville in the Class 1A state championship, and faced a third-and-6 from the Perryville 29 yard line. The Poets lined up in their “Cowboy” formation, with receiver Deontay McManus lined up as the feature back.
McManus took the ball, cut right, broke a tackle and spring-boarded for a 29-yard touchdown to ice the game for the Poets. The game clinched Dunbar’s second consecutive state championship and is the sixth title in the past eight years.
Unlike its previous playoff games, it wasn’t easy for Dunbar this time. The Panthers opened the game and immediately found success with their Wing-T offense, frequently misdirecting the Poets away from the football. The Poets, normally a stout team against the run, gave up an uncharacteristic 120 rushing yards. They were also trailing 11-8 at halftime, having given up 45-yard touchdown from quarterback Gabe Sherrod to receiver Brian Matthews.
But Dunbar made the necessary adjustments in the second half, electing to use the power run with seniors Lavar Highsmith and Charles Brown. After Highsmith ran back the opening kickoff to the Perryville 25 yard line, Brown ran for a 25-yard touchdown to put Dunbar up 16-11.
The Panthers answered with a long, sustained drive to get down to the Dunbar 7 yard line. On first down, Perryville running back Ethan Griffin ran the ball inside the 1. The Poets subbed in its “Elephant” package to beef up the defensive line. The strategy worked as the Poets stuffed the Panthers on three consecutive attempts. Coach Lawrence Smith said this was the turning point in the game.
From there, the Poets were able to control the clock on offense, despite some mistakes. The center/quarterback exchange wasn’t on par as the ball hit the turf quite a bit. But Dunbar overcame them with solid defensive play in the fourth quarter, adjusting to the misdirection runs Perryville threw its way.
After McManus scored the game-clinching touchdown, running back Paki Brown added a 13-yard touchdown with 1:01 left. The Poets added the 2-point conversion to give the game a final score of Dunbar 32, Perryville 11.
The Poets stormed the field when the game ended, not before dunking Smith with a Gatorade shower.
By Jason Butt