Without question, Dunbar junior Devin Roche is one of the best running backs in the state this season.
On Saturday against Baltimore City rival Mervo, he showed he could throw the ball in a pinch as well.
Roche used his legs and his arm — throwing three touchdowns passes and running for two — to lead the Poets to a 48-46 come-from-behind overtime win over the Mustangs on Saturday afternoon in front of a big crowd at Poly.
With Dunbar trailing by 16 points with less than three minutes to play, Roche threw touchdown passes of 25 yards and 61 yards — finding Devin Paige with 1:04 to play — and the Poets converted both 2-point conversions to force overtime. Tristan Keenan scored on a 2-yard run and ran in the 2-point conversion in overtime and the Poets defense made a game-winning stop on Mervo’s potential game-tying 2-point conversion attempt.
Roche, who took over for starting quarterback Jeremiah Dallas (illness) in the second quarter, carried the ball 21 times for 141 yards and completed five of eight passes for 119 yards and three touchdowns as the Poets improved to 3-0 on the season. Roche, who played quarterback in youth football, hadn’t taken any snaps in practices this year. He said the Poets “winged it,” and he made it all work out.
“Our brotherhood is so strong. We’re too tight a click to give up — that’s not us,” he said.
“I’m a running back … hey, but I made it happen for my team. They needed me to step up and that’s what big-time players do.”
The game, which lasted four hours, was delayed for nearly an hour when Mervo wide receiver Elijah Gorham was sidelined with an injury and taken to an area hospital via ambulance. In the closing minutes of the third quarter, he landed hard trying to make a catch in the end zone and stayed down along the sideline for nearly 45 minutes
Mervo coach Patrick Nixon said Sunday he couldn’t disclose the nature of Gorham’s injury. A surgery to repair it was successful, Nixon said, and Gorham was recovering in the hospital as of Sunday morning.
“He’s still recovering from the surgery, but all signs are pointing in the right direction, so the family and everybody is just remaining prayerful,” Nixon said.
“Our hearts, minds & prayers are with one of our young men,” the Mervo football team Twitter account posted Sunday morning. “We ask everyone in our Coaching/Player community, to continue to pray & ask for restoration.”
It was Gorham who gave the Mustangs a 33-24 lead with a 78-yard kickoff return to start the second half. Then, on the first play after he left the field, the Mustangs converted a fourth-and-long when quarterback Connor Hawkins found Vaughn Devaughn for a 20-yard touchdown to make it 40-24.
With the momentum on the Mustangs’ side, the Poets found their own resolve behind Roche.
With his scrambling ability keeping plays alive, he found Keenan for a 25-yard score with 2:28 to play, and Corey Anderson added the 2-point conversion with a run to cut the lead to 42-32. After a defensive stop, Roche completed the long touchdown pass to Paige, with Roche running in the 2-point conversion to tie the game at 40 with 1:04 to play.
Dunbar had the ball at the 10-yard line to start overtime. Roche went 8 yards on two plays before Keenan ran it in from 2 yards and converted the 2-point play for a 48-40 lead.
On Mervo’s overtime possession, Bobby Johnson scored from 1 yard on third down, but the Mustangs were unable to convert the 2-point play with Melvin Brown and Tyler Hood teaming to sack Mervo quarterback Derrick Dunn.
“We talked about not giving up,” Dunbar coach Lawrence Smith said. “Mervo is a great team — we knew what it was about. I just told my guys we were going to keep it going, keep it going, and we knew what we had to do.
“So once we got to that point, we just wanted to win this game, and the guys did it.”
After the game, Smith slung a gold championship belt over Roche’s shoulder.
“That’s the man! That’s the man!” Smith said. “Our quarterback got sick and he’s the man. I told everybody Devin is one of the best in the state. He’s definitely the best in the city.”
The Mustangs, who rotate quarterbacks, got a solid first half from Dunn (6-for-8 passing for 131 yards and two touchdowns; 30 rushing yards and two touchdowns) to turn a 16-6 hole into 25-16 advantage when he found wide receiver Kylish Hicks for a 20-yard touchdown with 32 seconds left in the second quarter. The Poets took momentum into the half when Roche found Tony Hart for a 27-yard touchdown pass with 5 seconds left.
“Very, very disappointing loss — one of the most disappointing losses I’ve ever been a part of,” Nixon said. “I’ve been a part of a lot of games and never seen anything quite like that one before. We made way too many mistakes and they absolutely capitalized when they had the opportunities, so you have to take your hats off to them for never giving up. When you’re playing a good team like that and have an opportunity to finish, you got to finish them and we failed to do that.”
Both teams return to league play Friday afternoon with 3:45 games. Mervo travels to Patterson, while Dunbar hosts Poly.
Baltimore Sun reporter Christine Condon contributed to this article.