Playing for the DC Interscholastic Athletic Association championship at Eastern High in northeast Washington on Thanksgiving brought up the greatest emotions for the Roughriders and Crimson Tide.
“The Turkey Bowl means so much,” said Theodore Roosevelt coach Chris Harden. “As someone who still lives in DC and grew up in DC, it’s one of the last memories I have of Chocolate City. It is something that is ours, that we put together, that has been here for years and has stood the test of time.”
Beating Dunbar also created unusual feelings for Harden, a former Dunbar standout. Harden, who said he hadn’t slept in two days, won three Turkey Bowl championships as a player and was named the game’s MVP in 2003.
“It was definitely a little weird to see Dunbar in a turkey bowl from the other touchline after having played with them so many times,” Harden said. “I have so many memories of those colors, but I’m bleeding blue and orange now. This is my home.”
After a 12-12 tie in the first three quarters, Roosevelt (11-1) took the lead on a 19-yard touchdown run from quarterback Khalil Wilkins, who also made the two-point conversion 11-40.
The Roughriders’ defense added distance a few plays later when Kevin Montague took out DCIAA Player of the Year Mike Brown and returned the fumble 70 yards for a touchdown.
On the ensuing drive, the Crimson Tide reduced the deficit to 26-18 on a one-yard touchdown run from junior Michael Clark, but Dunbar came no closer.
Wilkins finished with 149 yards in total offense and two touchdowns.
“Having all these beautiful black guys in the stands cheering you on while you win a chip is special,” Wilkins said after being named Turkey Bowl MVP. “Only the Turkey Bowl can do that.”
Dunbar (8-4) came into Thursday’s matchup mourning the loss of coach Maurice Vaughn’s mother. She had been a fixture at games from Vaughn’s days as youth league coach. She died on November 16 after a long battle with cancer.
“Man, that’s a tough question because I really wanted to win that for her,” Vaughn said. “She was my number one fan and before she died she told me how badly she wanted this for us. We gave everything we had but it just wasn’t enough to beat it [Roosevelt] today.”
The Roughriders, who went unbeaten for the second straight season in the DCIAA game, will play the winner of Saturday’s game between Archbishop Carroll and Friendship Collegiate in the DC State Athletic Association’s Class AA championship game on December 3.
In last season’s DCSAA title game, an over-the-top celebration penalty delayed a possible game-winning extra point, which Roosevelt then missed. The team lost to Carroll in overtime.
Looking ahead to a potential rematch, Wilkins said his team must stay disciplined this time. “We know we left some meat on the bone last year,” the QB said, “and we’re coming back to collect it.”