WALDORF -- A chilly night of Class 3A state semifinal football at Westlake High left No. 3 Dunbar with a 75-mile, 90-minute bus ride back to Baltimore knowing there will be no third straight title game appearance.
Westlake's Dan Holton rushed 18 times for 184 yards and two touchdowns and caught a pass for another to lead the homestanding Wolverines (12-0) over Dunbar (9-3) by 26-14.
The Charles County team, ranked No. 4 in the Washington, D.C., area by The Washington Post and No. 3 in the state by AP, next plays Damascus (11-1) at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium either next Friday or Saturday at a time to be determined.
The northern Montgomery County school was a 20-10 winner last night over Thomas Johnson (9-3), of Frederick.
Against Westlake, the Poets, who led 8-0 in the first quarter, yielded 20 points in the second quarter and fell behind 26-8 after Holton's 45-yard touchdown just 50 seconds into the second half.
Dunbar's All-Metro running back Ali Culpepper (14 carries, 144 yards) scored his touchdown from 13 yards to cap a 67-yard, 10-play drive -- set up by Carlrome Randle's fumble recovery -- with 3: 36 left in the third period.
But another promising drive stalled on downs at the Wolverines' 19 with 8: 56 left in the game. And yet another ended on an incomplete pass by Denelle Hale (6-for-8, 98 yards) with 2: 06 to go.
Westlake got the ball back and ran out the clock.
"We had the momentum at that point, and we figured we were still in the game. But when they stopped us, the momentum turned," said Culpepper, a four-year starter who was in his fourth state semifinal.
Last year at Morgan State, Dunbar edged Westlake, 14-6, in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs and went on to win its second straight state title. But the Wolverines returned most of that team and averaged 350 yards of offense this season, outscoring opponents by 380-to-67.
The 2,000 fans -- about 1,200 from Westlake -- screamed for redemption against the Poets, owners of a 27-1 road record coming in (8-1 in state playoff games). Under coach Stan Mitchell (42-7), Dunbar's last loss on the road came at Southern of Harwood in the 1993 Class 2A state semifinals.
"We had been kind of pointing at this game all year we knew that one way or another, it would be us and Dunbar," said Westlake star Holton.
Dunbar took its opening drive 15 plays and 71 yards -- with Culpepper rushing nine times for 57 yards -- before Hale went over from 1 yard and then ran in the conversion for an 8-0 lead.
"We pretty much did what we intended in the first quarter -- controlling the ball and sticking it in," said Culpepper.
But that's when Westlake's wing-T offense got going with its double-handoffs, counters, and screen passes. Westlake totaled 239 of its 381 yards in the first half.
The first scoring drive, capped by Brandon Dickens' 14-yard run, covered 96 yards and 13 plays and included two fourth-down conversions. T-Wuan Prather's conversion run tied the game.
A broken punt play at the end of Dunbar's next series gave the Wolverines possession at the Poets' 39. Four plays later, Joe Austin (4-for-5, 87 yards) passed 27 yards to Holton for a touchdown and a 14-8 lead with 5: 44 left in the half.
Another Dunbar punt landed at Westlake's 23, but in seven plays, the Wolverines had another touchdown on Holton's 8-yard draw with 1: 18 left in the half.
"They're a great team, but we did what we had to do," said Westlake coach Dom Zaccarelli, whose program is just five years old.
Westlake 26, Dunbar 14
Dunbar . 8 0 6 0 -- 14
Westlake 0 20 6 0 -- 26
D--Hale 1 run (Hale run)
W--Dickens 4 run (Prather run)
W--Holton 27 pass from Austin (kick failed).
W--Holton 8 run (run failed)
W--Holton 45 run (run failed)
D--Culpepper 13 run (run failed)
Pub Date: 11/23/96