RICHMOND — Don't count the defending state soccer champions out yet.
Paul Laurence Dunbar struck twice in the first half Saturday and made the goals stand up in a 2-1 victory over Henry Clay at Memorial Field.
The win gave the third-ranked Bulldogs their third consecutive 11th Region boys' championship.
Dunbar next will play on the road against the winner of Saturday's St. Henry-Covington Catholic match.
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The key in Saturday's game?
"Luck. We were just lucky," said Todd Bretz, coach of the Bulldogs (17-4-3). "We were lucky on our chances and we got a couple breaks, and we capitalized. And then we had a lot of guys that haven't played a lot this year step up this game big.
"That was the key for us — we were lucky early and then were able to hang on."
No. 4 Henry Clay (18-2-2) suffered its first loss to an in-state team. The Blue Devils beat Dunbar 2-1 during the regular season.
"I felt like in the first half we gave up maybe three shots on goal and they scored on two of them," Henry Clay Coach Tim Bernardi said. "It was just mental lapses. We've only given up 10 goals all season, and then we manage to give up two goals in the first half.
"But I thought our guys came back really hard in the second half and were really in the thick of it to the bitter end. We knew going in that Dunbar was a great team, well coached, organized, and they proved why they're one of the better programs in the state."
Manny Rivera and Fabian Hernandez scored to give Dunbar a 2-0 lead through one half.
Rivera struck first, with 20½ minutes left in the half. Ricky Clemente set up Rivera near the 18-yard line.
"I got a little nervous right there," Rivera said. "But I just finished, and I'm just really proud of myself and my teammates."
Hernandez scored with about 12 minutes left.
This one came off a Clemente corner kick. Justin Kelley got a header on target and Hernandez was on the doorstep to clean up the rebound.
The game was physical throughout, with seven yellow cards handed out.
"Very physical," Bretz said. "Henry Clay's a fantastic team, and on a smaller field where you don't have much space — these are big, bad boys — it's going to get physical."
Henry Clay got on the board with 30:45 left.
That's when Joshua Barnie headed in a corner kick off the foot of Collin Rose.
But that was the only shot to elude goalkeeper Travis Shuler, who credited his defensive mates for helping out.
"My defense was everything in this game," Shuler said. "We've had some miscommunication errors in the past, but we really stepped it up because we knew what a big game it was. We've just been trying to work it out in practice, and I think it really paid off."
Henry Clay was handicapped by the limited play of standout forward Thomas Ueland. Despite an ankle injury that caused him to miss most of the previous four games, Ueland logged about 20 minutes in the first half and another eight-to-10 in the second half, but he was not 100 percent.
"Effort," Shuler said when asked what the difference was between Saturday and the regular-season match between the teams. "I think it was effort, and I think that we just happened to peak at a better time than they did."
Dunbar 2, Henry Clay 1
Goals—PLD: Manual Rivera, Fabian Hernandez; HC: Joshua Barnie. Goalkeepers—PLD: Travis Shuler; HC: David Vasquez.
Records: Paul Dunbar 17-4-3; Henry Clay 18-2-2.