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Dunbar reigns again
(Published December 1, 2003)

By DAVID STEINBACHER
Special to The Common Denominator

The Dunbar Crimson Tide turned back a valiant Ballou Knight effort to win the 2003 Turkey Bowl, 33-20. The DCIAA varsity football title was the Tide’s fifth in the past six seasons.

Before the Nov. 27 contest was five minutes old, 21 combined points had been scored at Eastern Senior High’s stadium. Dunbar, coached by Craig Jefferies, marched 62 yards on seven plays to light up the scoreboard first when sophomore running back Jerry Johnson punched the ball in from seven yards out. Senior quarterback/punter/placekicker Stadford Brown booted the point after touchdown (PAT), with senior Justin Amos holding, to put the black and red up 7-0 with 9:40 remaining in the first quarter.

"We wanted to run the ball straight at them today," Brown said.

One of the keys in the sequence was the initial 24-yard kickoff return by senior Marcelle Stover, which gave the Dunbar offense possession at their own 38-yard line to commence the drive.

In the most spectacular play of the entire game, Ballou standout junior wide receiver/kick returner Maurice White caught the ensuing kickoff near the right hash mark at the 10-yard line, slipped briefly on the wet grass, headed up the right sideline, cut across the middle of the field and out-raced the entire Dunbar coverage team down the left sideline to reach the goal line. It was a huge play for the underdog Knights, and it fired up the entire Ballou rooting section.

"They kicked it to me and I concentrated on taking it all the way to ‘the house.’ Before they kicked it off I told myself that I was going to take it all the way," said White, who is also a track and field standout coached in both sports by Ballou Athletic Director Noel Cyrus.

Ballou senior running back James Martin pounded in the two-point PAT to give the blue and gold the lead with 9:22 left to go in the first quarter. It would be the only time Ballou would lead in the entire contest and was short-lived.

"Right there, I told our players to keep their heads up," said Dunbar Head Coach Craig Jefferies.

Dunbar, starting at their own 29-yard line, then drove six plays and 71 yards to score the game’s decisive points, with Johnson scoring his second touchdown of the game -- this time from 13 yards out.

"Give the offensive line [Kevin Wiggins, Dion Matthews, Glen Ford, Keith Harris, Melvin Carr] a lot of credit today. They did a great job," Johnson said after the game.

Two huge plays in the drive saw quarterback Brown scooting for 19 yards and Brown connecting with Stover on a 19-yard pass reception. The two-point PAT failed. Nonetheless, Dunbar never looked back from that point forward.

"We knocked some people over and took care of business today," said Dunbar offensive tackle Kevin Wiggins.

The Knights proceeded to turn the ball over on downs and fumble the ball away on their next two offensive possessions. Neither proved damaging, as the Ballou defense forced two consecutive Crimson Tide punts.

However, late in the second quarter, a Ballou drive stalled and the Knights were forced to punt.
In punt formation, the ball sailed over sophomore punter/quarterback Nico Scott’s head. Scott was under enormous pressure chasing the ball down. The sophomore scooped the ball up and attempted to pass it downfield. The throw was picked off by Dunbar junior defensive back Darnell Smith. Two plays later, Johnson scored his third touchdown -- this time from 12 yards out.

Once again, the two-point PAT was no good, but Dunbar had a solid 19-8 lead. Ballou senior running back/linebacker James Richardson ripped off 28 yards on the ensuing kickoff return. However, two plays later, Dunbar senior linebacker Chris Harden intercepted Scott’s pass over the middle. Dunbar senior linebacker Thaddeus Ross made the interception possible by deflecting the ball as it crossed the line of scrimmage.

"We’ve put in a lot of hard work this year. We had to make some plays out there," Ross said.

Coach Jefferies said his team was "fortunate to have gotten those turnovers out there today."

The Crimson Tide cashed in six plays later, when workhorse Johnson scored from eight yards out. The two-point PAT failed again, but Dunbar was ahead 25-8 with 1:48 remaining in the second quarter.

Heads were hanging on the Ballou sidelines, but with time ticking down before the half, quarterback Scott engineered a three-play, 65-yard scoring drive. The sophomore connected with James Richardson on a five-yard completion. After an incomplete pass, Scott hit senior running back/wide receiver Martin in the numbers over the middle of the field, and Martin outran the Dunbar defense to the end zone. Richardson came up two feet short on the ensuing two-point PAT attempt. Nonetheless, Ballou was back in the game, trailing 25-14 at halftime.

"We thought that we could definitely win this game. We had our chances out there," said Ballou Head Coach Cyrus.

Whereas the Ballou passing game is what closed the deficit right before halftime, it also hurt Ballou’s chances in the second half. Scott connected with Martin, who was flanked wide right, to open the third stanza. James Richardson then ran from scrimmage on three consecutive plays. But on fourth and three from the Dunbar 27-yard line, Scott’s pass to Martin was caught and then stripped by the Dunbar defense. Stover, playing defensive back, scooped up the loose ball and sprinted to the end zone to give Dunbar a decisive 31-14 lead. Seconds later, Brown connected with junior wide receiver James McDonald on the PAT to give the Crimson Tide a 33-14 advantage.

Ballou then turned the ball over on downs and Dunbar was forced to punt. The Knights offense buckled their chin straps and drove 55 yards on seven plays to cut the deficit to 33-20. Early in the sequence, Ballou fumbled the ball, but it was recovered by senior two-way lineman David Pride. Scott connected with senior wide receiver Andre Tillman on a 32-yard touchdown reception. Tillman made a full extension to grab the ball on the left side and then
sprinted to the end zone.

The two point PAT was no good, and time was running out for the determined Ballou Knights. Over the game’s final 12 minutes, Dunbar and Ballou successively failed to move the ball, and Dunbar’s quarterback kneeled at the Ballou 20-yard line to end the contest as time ran out.

"We were a real team this year. It was the best season that I have ever had here at Ballou," said offensive lineman David Pride.

Cyrus said his team "simply had too many turnovers" to win.

"Dunbar really didn’t do anything that we didn’t expect," Cyrus said. "We came pretty close. I am very disappointed because we came here to win. We didn’t quit. We’ve got a young team. We’ll be back."

Copyright 2003, The Common Denominator