Dunbar's theme throughout this football season, "unfinished business," is an allusion to last fall's year-ending, Class 1A state semifinal loss to eventual champion Joppatowne.
"It's been in the backs of the kids' minds all year," coach Ben Eaton said of the shutout loss. "Deep down inside, it's been their motivation."
Yesterday's 44-3 state semifinal rout of Queen Anne's (9-4) at City College earned the fifth-ranked Poets (12-1) the rematch they've been looking for. Dunbar will meet No. 10 Joppatowne (11-2), the defending 1A state champion, in Saturday's title game at M&T Bank Stadium.
"We owe Joppatowne for last year," said senior All-Metro running back Nathan Irby, whose program is chasing its third state crown in four title-game appearances. "We'll go in with a chip on our shoulders and leave it all on the field."
Irby did just that against Queen Anne's. He scored two touchdowns and four two-point conversions, gaining 317 of Dunbar's 400 rushing yards. Irby also intercepted his seventh pass of the year and recovered a fumble.
Teammate Marcus Taylor rushed for one touchdown and threw for scores of 40 and 74 yards to Darron Edwards and Kyle Johnson, respectively. Quinton Garrus ran for a 9-yard touchdown as Dunbar scored 28 points in the second half.
The Poets struggled through a scoreless, penalty-marred first quarter before Irby made it 8-0 with a 34-yard touchdown run 11:45 before halftime. It was 16-0 after Johnson, 6 feet 8, caught Taylor's pass near midfield, then ran into the end zone.
"It was a tight end seam route designed for me," Johnson said. "There was one last defender behind me, but I stiff-armed the little guy and got a great downfield block from Edwards."
Trevor Walls' 29-yard field goal made it 16-3 at halftime, but Queen Anne's quarterback Jim Bedford (1-for-10, 15 yards) had trouble passing over Johnson, 6-5 Eric Carter and 6-4 Athalie Rivera (18 sacks this year).
When he did, Irby, Anthony Higgs, Antonio Salter or Derrick Sessions disrupted passes. Higgs had an interception, and Kendall Jamison made a touchdown-preventing tackle on Dunbar's 9-yard line.
"Our cornerbacks are excellent," said Carter, part of a defense that limited Queen Anne's to 83 total yards. "Our defensive line is one of the best in the state."
Irby's 2,694 rushing yards this season are 177 short of tying the state record held by Stephen Decatur's Ben Tate (2,871 yards, 40 touchdowns), whose season ended with Friday night's 52-19 loss to Class 2A state finalist Hereford (13-0).
Taylor has passed for 1,806 yards and 24 scores, mostly to Edwards, who has 50 catches for 1,110 yards and 17 touchdowns.
"They're a complete team. They mix it up well," Lions coach Donny Graef said. "They can throw the ball deep, have receivers who can catch, a big, huge offensive line, running backs who can run the football and a fullback who can lead-block."
It was Dunbar's 12th straight win since a season-opening, 28-14 loss to No. 2 Gilman. And it lands Eaton in his first title game since assisting Stan Mitchell's 1997 team that finished second to Fort Hill of Allegany County.
"[The title game with Joppatowne] is going to be a dogfight," Eaton said. "But it's like that James Brown tune - time for the big payback."
QA 0 3 0 0 - 3
D 0 16 16 12 - 44
D-Irby 34 run (Irby run) D-Johnson 74 pass from Taylor (Irby run) QA-FG Walls 29 D-Edwards 40 pass from Taylor (Irby run) D-Taylor 1 run (Irby run) D-Garrus 9 run (pass failed) D-Irby 62 run (kick failed)
Other score Class 2A state semifinal Potomac-PG 14, Fort Hill 0