Stephens-Peppers leads Trotwood over Dunbar in regional semis

There was no blaming the returning Trotwood-Madison football players for wanting to play Dunbar. Once the teams realized they would be lumped together in Division III, Region 12, the inevitable was on.

“When we saw they made the playoffs, we knew we might bump into them,” assured Rams’ standout linebacker James Parker.

Unbeaten Trotwood bumped Dunbar out of the playoffs with a 64-26 statement in Friday night’s regional semifinal at Butler. That vaults Trotwood (12-0) into next week’s regional final against unlikely Chaminade Julienne (9-3), which advanced by outlasting New Richmond 26-21 at Monroe.

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The Trotwood and Dunbar roots run deep. Most of the players have known each other since their pee-wee football years and many are former teammates. Family ties between the schools are many.

“It’s a lot of neighborhood friends,” Trotwood coach Jeff Graham said. “There’s family. The kids know each other. My brother and sister graduated from Dunbar. That’s just how deep it goes back.”

That’s why afterward both teams knelt together at midfield for a long and heartfelt embrace and finishing prayer. It was the first time the teams had played since 2012, another lopsided 63-0 Trotwood blowout.

“They have an established program,” Dunbar coach Darran Powell said. “They have been the dominant team around here for a long time. We’ve just got to make sure we bring it next time.”

Guided by senior quarterback Markell Stephens-Peppers and another dominant defensive effort, Dunbar (8-4) was no match. Dunbar’s punt snap on its first possession sailed into the end zone and was recovered for a safety. The rout was on just 83 seconds into the frigid night.

Stephens-Peppers had a hand in five Trotwood touchdowns. He connected twice with Dallas Daniels for touchdown passes of 68 and 26 yards. Two more scoring passes went to James Parker (10 yards) and Sam Anderson (three yards). Stephens-Peppers also had a 1-yard scoring run.

That’s the kind of production Trotwood coaches have envisioned ever since Stephens-Peppers inherited the prized position as a sophomore.

“We put a lot in his plate,” Graham said. “Now it’s him performing and making those checks and getting guys in the right positions for run and pass calls. That was a beautiful thing he did with the play-action. We were like, he finally did it.”

The only concern was a shoulder injury to super senior running back Ra’veion Hargrove, who took a hard shot late in the first half. Up 36-6 at the break, Hargrove watched the second half after gaining 93 yards on just 10 carries and scoring.

More Dunbar miscues, fumbles and interceptions kept the second-half margin growing despite a running clock.

The Wolverines rallied late with senior Jo-Jo Scates collecting TD passes of 51 and 33 yards from senior QB Jamar Walker Senior running back Tavion Thomas went eight yards for another score. Verbally committed to the University of Oklahoma, Thomas had 90 yards rushing on 24 carries.

“We knew we had to slap the box against Tavion,” Graham said. “We didn’t want him to put that supremium fuel in that tank. It’s my first time watching him run and I see why he’s a Power-5 recruit and everybody’s trying to get him.”

Playing catch-up throughout, Walker completed 16 of 32 passes for 279 yards but was intercepted twice. Trotwood linebacker Kennedy Coates rang Walker up for his 20th sack.

“It’s a bittersweet moment and we didn’t want it to end that way,” Powell said. “I just hate it for my seniors that we went out like this.”

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