Tavon Austin looked up at the scoreboard. It would be the last play of his Dunbar football career, a career that had mesmerized observers of the high school sports scene for four years. His team was losing by a point in the Class 1A state title game to Fort Hill, and somehow, someway, the Poets needed to make this last-ditch two-point conversion with two seconds left.
"Tavon told me: 'Give me the ball. Give me the ball,' " said Dunbar quarterback Jonathan Perry, who held the team together and led the 89-yard drive to the touchdown that set the stage for this one play. "When I took the snap and handed it to him, I was crying."
Austin took the handoff and rolled left, with a move so fast no one on the Fort Hill team could touch him. Dunbar won, 20-19.
"I took charge," Austin said. "Because if we had lost, I wanted it to be on me."
The past three years have all been on Austin, as he rushed for state records in points scored, touchdowns, career rushing yards and total offensive yards.
Yesterday at M&T Bank Stadium, where Dunbar completed a 13-1 season and won its third consecutive state title, a feat accomplished by only six other teams and last done by Wilde Lake from 1990 to 1992, it again looked as if Austin would lead the way.
But after Austin easily scored the team's first two touchdowns on runs of 36 and 47 yards with seven minutes still to play in the opening quarter, Fort Hill (11-2) took charge. Marcus Lashley scored twice and Eric Howser once to take a 19-12 lead early in the fourth quarter.
In the end, it was Perry, the quiet senior quarterback, who led Dunbar back. With 1:56 to go he went to the two-minute drill, a concept that hadn't been used in a Dunbar game this season, but practiced daily, nonetheless.
"Coach [Lawrence Smith] and I walked out to the field together after halftime," Perry said. "He told me to keep my composure. That the team would follow me. If I lose my head, the team will lose its head. If I play hard, the team will play hard. On that final series, Antonio Brown looked into my eyes and told me [the line] would get the job done.
"I knew we were going to win. My brothers gave me the time and every wide receiver caught a ball. It was a great experience - and I want to see the film."
The first part of the film will show Perry scrambling for 13 yards on fourth-and-seven to keep the drive alive at the Dunbar 11-yard line. Then came passes to Avery Brisbon, Austin, Michael McNeil and finally, Sean Farr. The pass to Farr for 14 yards and the touchdown came after the snap got past Perry, forcing him to turn and scramble to pick up the ball and then throw it to the left, near corner where Farr reached out and grabbed it. Perry didn't see the touchdown. He was flat on his back.
The whole thing left Smith, the Poets' coach, and nearly everyone else who saw that last series incredulous. It left Smith searching for words.
"Fort Hill did a great job preparing for us, but true champions don't die," he said. "Our team didn't die."