With the winner keeping its slim state playoff hopes alive, Dunbar and Lake Clifton didn't need any more incentive going into their Baltimore City non-league game yesterday.
But the No. 13 Poets get the bragging rights after rallying for a 16-6 victory at Lake Clifton (7-3), ending the Lakers' dreams of leaping from a 1-19 record over the past two years to a playoff berth this season.
The Poets (8-2), who were holding the 11th spot in the Class 2A playoff race entering yesterday's game, gained 15 points with the win, not counting bonus points. Dunbar, which to qualify must jump over four teams -- Fort Hill (seventh), Lackey (eighth), Fallston (ninth) and Glenelg (10th) -- won't learn its fate until today or tomorrow.
"We didn't practice too well this week," said Dunbar coach Stanley Mitchell. "It showed in the first half. At halftime, I didn't have to say too much, the team was getting itself up. They didn't want to make this the last game, hoping they had another breath to play another game."
Until late in the final quarter yesterday, Dunbar's fate appeared to be sealed when it was trailing 6-0, and its offense struggling. But sophomore defensive tackle Dwayne Green broke through Lake Clifton's line and blocked a punt in the end zone for a safety with 5:25 remaining.
On the ensuing free kick to Dunbar, senior Sean Lipscomb found a gap in the middle and sprinted 67 yards for the Poets' first touchdown. Rodney Elliott found Lipscomb in the right corner of the end zone for the two-point conversion and a 10-6 lead with 5:11 left.
Dunbar's defense shut down the Lakers on the ensuing possession, knocking them from their 24 to the 9. The Poets partially blocked a punt, with the ball landed at the Lake Clifton 13. From there, they needed only two plays before Johnny Sawyer was in the end zone with 1:45 remaining. The game was stopped at that point because of a leg injury to Poets linemen Tyrone Lemon.
"We weren't going to give up because of the mistakes we had in the first half," said Lipscomb, who had an interception from a safety position. "We just had to pick up with our defense."
The Poets held Laker senior wide receiver Dennis Harding, who had 36 catches for 799 yards coming in, to only one catch for 9 yards. But it wasn't Harding's failure to get the ball that decided the outcome.
In the second quarter, the Lakers had a first-and-goal from the Poets' 1, after Dunbar committed its third turnover of the first quarter on the final play, and Mitchell benched an ineffective Elliott (0-for-5). But Lake Clifton didn't capitalize. On fourth-and-goal from the 2, Kenny Williams' dive for the goal line was thwarted by Tommy Polley (five solo tackles, four assists) and Derrick Player. Five times, the Lakers had the ball in Dunbar territory, only to come up empty.
"We had too many opportunities in the first half," said Lake Clifton coach David White. "We had a first-and-goal at the 1 and didn't get in. I told the guys at halftime, 6-0 probably wouldn't be enough. I think we were going uphill when they got that safety."