Roosevelt High School wide receiver Antonio Wilkins (2) runs for a touchdown in the first half of the 51st annual DC High School Football Championship Turkey Bowl at Eastern High School in southeast D.C. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
Roosevelt High School wide receiver Antonio Wilkins (2) runs for a touchdown in the first half of the 51st annual DC High School Football Championship Turkey Bowl at Eastern High School in southeast D.C. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

There was great anticipation for this year’s 51st annual Turkey Bowl after the football classic had to be canceled last year due to the pandemic.

This year, the Warriors of H.D. Woodson High School in Northeast, participants in five of the last seven games, battled the upstart Rough Riders of Theodore Roosevelt from Northwest whose last appearance goes back to 1998.

In the end, it would be Roosevelt, led by its star quarterback, Khalil Wilkins, which proved to be the difference with far greater firepower as H.D. Woodson won 37-22 before a crowd of over 7,000 at Eastern Stadium.

Early on, it appeared as though the Warriors (6-5) would set the tone when they forced a fumble and turned it into an early 8-0 lead on a Lee Novaun run. Buoyed by the early success, H.D. Woodson kept the high-powered Rough Riders potent offense under wraps, keeping them from getting into any kind of rhythm.

Then the Rough Riders (11-1) turned to Khalil Wilkins who comes off the bench for senior starter Kerry Burns. The talented 6-3 sophomore accounted for his team’s first points, finding receiver Derrick Hawkins from five yards and then adding the two-point conversion with a rush.

The Rough Riders defense forced an H.D. Woodson turnover on its next possession and it didn’t take long for Khalil to get his team on the boards as he connected with Antonio Wilkins on a beautifully thrown 60-yard pass. The two-point conversion gave Theodore Roosevelt the lead at 16-8 to close out the first half.

“We came out a little flat,” said Rough Rider head coach Christopher Harden, the DCIAA Coach of the Year. “But the team never wavered. We regrouped with our defense until the offense got us going.  We settled in after that.”

H.D. Woodson made it interesting when Lee took a handoff, swept right and found Amari Thomas on a 14-yard hookup that cut the deficit to 16-14 late in the third period.

But the celebration would be brief as Roosevelt unleashed its potent offense with Khalil and running back Juan Pratt taking over the game. First, Khalil capped off a 70-yard drive with a one-yard dive and then Pratt, a junior and one of several returning underclassmen, made his presence known, scoring on back-to-back TD runs of seven and 77 yards to give his team its first title since 1979.

Juan finished with 181 yards on just 11 carries. Remarkably poised for a young player performing on the big stage, Khalil displayed an array of skills on midrange passes, the deep ball and a slithery running style.

“We worked hard all season to get to this point,” said Khalil who finished six-of-10 for 147 yards and two TDs. “Everyone stepped up today on defense, special teams and on offense.”

Added Harden of his budding stars, “There’s not a lot that we can’t do when it comes to Wilkins. He has the poise and the talent to become an outstanding player for the next two years. He and Pratt give us two players who are capable of making big plays at any time. It is a nice luxury to have.”

The Rough Riders hope to cap off a storybook season when they take on the Archbishop Carroll Lions of Northeast for the DC State Association championship on Saturday, Dec. 4 at Georgetown University at 4 p.m.

“We had some goals that we set at the beginning of the season,” Harden said. “The first was to win the league, then win the Turkey Bowl and to then cap it off with the state championship.”

It has been a long drought for a program that once ruled as a dominant force in the DCIAA.

“This was for our fans, alumni and community who have supported the program over all those lean years,” Harden added.

D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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