Tates Creek had to deal with Paul Laurence Dunbar's deceptive triple-option offense, and both teams had to cope with August's triple dose of heat, humidity and the resulting fatigue in a high school football season opener on Friday.
Host Tates Creek managed to hold on for a 22-21 victory — its sixth consecutive win over the Bulldogs.
"The first game of the season, early in the day (5:30 p.m. kickoff), and a lot of heat, but you've got to adapt and overcome," Commodores Coach Mike Harmon said.
"I was happy that when we had to make a couple of plays, we did."
Tates Creek's final big play came from its defense.
Down 22-15, Dunbar drove 84 yards in the closing two minutes behind the running and scrambling of quarterback Emory Thompson.
Thompson capped it with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Marcellis Means with 52 seconds left to make it 22-21.
Paul Rains, Dunbar's first-year coach, didn't hesitate in calling for a two-point conversion try. After the Bulldogs got a 5-yard penalty for delay of game, Tates Creek sniffed out the sweep, and Eamon Nasr helped tackle A.J. Williams for a loss and secure the Commodores' victory.
"Reading our keys is pretty tough with the triple option, but we did it on that play and knew it was a sweep," said Nasr, a senior linebacker.
Tates Creek's defense gave up 342 yards, with Williams rushing for 91 yards, including a 72-yard scoring dash. He also caught two passes for 60 yards, one of them a 44-yard TD.
Thompson ran the option well, and ran 14 times for 82 yards. Fullback Cam Pergram bulled his way for 47 yards.
Harmon thought his defense buckled down when it absolutely had to, led by Jacob Czarnecki, Nasr, Max Sweet and Daren Mayfield.
"The triple option isn't something you see very often, and we had some missed assignments," Harmon said. "But I thought overall we did a pretty good job."
Tates Creek's offense generated 307 yards.
Graham Gordon, who threw for 2,300 yards and 16 TDs last season, connected on 15 of 18 passes for 157 yards and two scores.
Casey Grimes rushed for 81 yards, including a 56-yard scamper that set up Martavius Carter's fourth-quarter TD that put the Commodores' ahead 22-15.
Grimes also scored on a nifty hook-and-ladder on the last play of the first half.
Gordon completed a 15-yard pass to TaVon Dunn at the Dunbar 20, and Dunn lateraled to Grimes who was trailing the play. Grimes went the last 20 yards for the TD.
Grimes said the Commodores "should've played better, but I think it was first-game kinks, and we got tired in the heat after getting so hyped with adrenaline."
Rains took the blame for Dunbar's loss. He's employing the triple option for the first time in a long time in his career, and he's asking a lot out of a new team to learn all of the offense's intricacies.
"But our heart was there," he said. "We were just a couple blocks away from getting that (two-point conversion).
"We're going to get better at a faster rate than anybody else in the city, and we're going to be a force to be reckoned with if we stay healthy."
Derante Sanders led Dunbar's defense with 7.5 tackles. J'Maurion Dunn had 5.5.
Tates Creek 22, Paul Dunbar 21
Paul Dunbar 7 0 8 6—21
Tates Creek 0 15 0 7—22
PD—A.J. Williams 44 pass from Emory Thompson (Levi Clark kick). TC—Jaren Shelby 21 pass from Graham Gordon (Eamon Nasr pass from Peyton Burke). TC—Casey Grimes 20 lateral from TaVon Dunn (Jake Ryan kick). PD—Williams 72 run (Thompson run). TC—Martavius Carter 8 run (Ryan kick). PD—Marcellis Means 27 pass from Thompson (run failed).
Records—Dunbar 0-1; Tates Creek 1-0.