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Theodore Roosevelt, money all season, cashes in with its first Turkey Bowl title since 1979

Rough Riders 37, Warriors 22

Theodore Roosevelt running back Juan Pratt eludes a tackle during the 51st Turkey Bowl at Eastern High on Thursday. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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When the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association released its football schedule this past summer, Theodore Roosevelt was scheduled for four opponents’ homecoming games. People around Roosevelt’s program struggled to justify that reality — typically homecoming games are against lesser opponents the home team thinks it can beat — until they settled on a theory: The Rough Riders provided schools an electric atmosphere and money from spectators because of their thrilling performances.

Soon, the Rough Riders nicknamed themselves “the money team.” In a late series to clinch its 37-22 win Thursday afternoon in the Turkey Bowl, Roosevelt solidified that label.

Roosevelt was leading H.D. Woodson by nine points with seven minutes remaining, and its next three minutes featured a long running back pass, a seven-yard touchdown run, an interception and a 78-yard run to the end zone. With that sequence in front of about 6,000 spectators at Eastern High, the Rough Riders claimed their first DCIAA Stars division title since 1979.

“We might need to get signed by [Floyd] Mayweather or something,” said Coach Chris Harden, wearing an orange jacket with “Rough Riders AKA THE MONEY TEAM” printed in blue on the back. “We’re representing the name real well.”

Inspired by ‘The Wire,’ Theodore Roosevelt football wins first regular season title since 1979

When Harden took over the Northwest Washington program in 2016, Roosevelt (11-1) was coming off a 2-8 season in the DCIAA’s lower Stripes division. Harden filled his roster by recruiting students in the hallways and on basketball courts.

The Rough Riders won the Gravy Bowl in 2016 and 2017, earning a promotion to Stars the next season. Harden wasn’t satisfied.

“I told them gravy is just something that you add on to the main course,” Harden said. “I told them the main course is turkey. That’s what we want.”

The coronavirus pandemic paused Roosevelt’s goals when it prompted the cancellation of the DCIAA’s 2020 season and the Turkey Bowl for the first time in 50 years. While some Roosevelt players transferred, others trained and returned to practice in August more motivated.

The Rough Riders, who will play in the D.C. State Athletic Association Class AA championship game Dec. 4, finished undefeated in DCIAA play.

“We knew from the jump,” defensive back Antonio Wilkins said, “the only team that could beat us was us.”

While Harden won three Turkey Bowls as a linebacker at Dunbar in the early 2000s, Roosevelt hadn’t reached the game since 1998. Quarterback Khalil Wilkins attended the event almost every year growing up, and nerves prevented the sophomore from sleeping Wednesday night.

After a slow start, though, Wilkins accounted for three touchdowns in Northeast Washington before running back Juan Pratt took over. After a Roosevelt trick play, Pratt rushed for the seven-yard touchdown with 5:51 remaining. Wilkins intercepted Woodson (6-5) on its ensuing drive. On the next play, Pratt’s hill training during the pandemic paid off when the junior exploded for a 78-yard touchdown run with 4:25 left.

As Pratt jogged to the sideline, his teammates rubbed their thumbs against their index fingers to form a money gesture.

“That’s what we do,” Wilkins said. “We get money.”

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