He wears his eye black a little different, a vertical streak rather than a horizontal underline, smeared like face paint around his left eye.
Back after the second game of the season, when his normally stout Sierra Canyon Trailblazers were sputtering at 0-2, Dane Dunn got the idea to switch up that eye black. He saw a teammate try it out — and it stuck with Dunn, a 5-foot-9 pinball of a running back.
“It reminds me,” he said, “of old warriors.”
His dark-blue uniform wrinkled, breath short, uniquely crafted eye black smeared, Dunn stood on the sidelines Saturday night battered but a champion. As Sierra Canyon couldn’t get much of anything going with their passing attack in their Southern Section Division 2 final against Inglewood, they fed Dunn time and time again, the diminutive yet powerful back refusing to be dragged down during a 23-7 win.
The eye black, the rallying cry, is the style Dunn’s taken to heart all season in a massive Trailblazer turnaround that’s ended with a championship. And that was never more apparent than Saturday night, Dunn fighting off waves of defenders, still marching on to tally 209 yards and three touchdowns.
“No matter how bad it hurt, or anything, I just knew I had to push, and fight for everything I could get,” Dunn said.
It was an attitude emblematic of a Trailblazer team that slumped and stumbled early, a traditionally dominant football program met with untraditionally scant levels of success. A fairly underclassmen-heavy team made underclassmen-heavy mistakes en route to a 2-4 start, struggling to try to find a rhythm through the first half of this season.
“They always say, every sophomore you start’s good for a loss,” coach Jon Ellinghouse joked Monday.
Not quite with Dunn, who Ellinghouse asserted was special ever since he stepped foot on Sierra Canyon’s campus. This sophomore racked up 24 touchdowns on the year entering Saturday, buoying a seven-game Sierra Canyon win streak heading into the finals as the coaching staff stayed pat.
“We had some guys that had to grow up,” Ellinghouse said of his young core. “And they have, and I’m really proud of them.”
It took little time for Dunn to assert his presence Saturday, taking a draw up the middle on Sierra Canyon’s first offensive play of the game and breaking free of tacklers for a 50-yard gain. The next play, he ran in a short touchdown to put the Trailblazers up 7-0.
In the second quarter, he struck again, pushing the Trailblazers down the field, squirming and dragging for every yard. From the eight-yard line, he burst through, twisting and stretching the football behind his head in a display of willpower to break the plane of the goal line.
He ran in another score in the fourth quarter, but the first two were all Sierra Canyon really needed.
Inglewood quarterback Husan Longstreet has been a star all season, the sophomore entering Saturday night with 35 passing touchdowns. Yet he faced perhaps his stiffest test all season in an athletic Trailblazers defense, and the front line swarmed him out of the pocket as the secondary blanketed Sentinel-green pass-catchers.
Helping limit Longstreet to a lone first-half touchdown and a handful of short gains was another Sierra Canyon sophomore — defensive back Jae’On Young. After a first-half interception, he picked off another Longstreet pass with Inglewood trying to muster some momentum in the third quarter, continuing to stifle a once-mighty Sentinel offense.
“It took a lot of resiliency,” Young said, “to get where we are today.”
Fifteen years ago, this Sierra Canyon program was birthed on a baseball field, Ellinghouse recalling the eight-man days with humble beginnings. Six championships later, they’re looking for a Division 2 regional win next week followed by a state title in two weeks, their legacy cemented as Dunn’s feet never stopped churning.