CUMBERLAND — Top-seeded Fort Hill struck early and pounded often in using its quick-strike capability and age-old physicality to advance to the Maryland 1A West Region championship game with a 46-7 semifinal victory over fourth-seeded Manchester Valley Friday night at Greenway Avenue Stadium.
Ty Johnson, picking up where he left off in last Saturday’s Homecoming Game, put the Sentinels (11-0) on the board 50 seconds into the contest with a blazing 63-yard touchdown run and then the Sentinels blasted away up front to wear down the Mavericks on both sides of the ball, rushing for 327 yards on 31 carries, and bottling up Manchester Valley’s hard-running Jake Fernandez to 76 yards on 23 carries and the Mavericks to just 68 rushing yards total.
The victory ensures the Sentinels a date in the region title game against another Carroll County team, third-seeded North Carroll, which edged second-seeded Hancock on Friday, 14-13. The West Region championship will be determined Friday, 7 p.m., at Greenway Avenue Stadium.
Manchester Valley defeated North Carroll last week in the regular-season finale, 27-8.
“We started off a little rough,” said Fort Hill head coach Todd Appel. “We made some mistakes, but I think we were physical and played with a lot of intensity. Football should be fun because it is physical, and as the game rolled on our physical play took over.
“We took advantage of mistakes and in the end showed we were the better team.”
The Sentinels wasted very little time in showing it as, on the second play from the line of scrimmage, Johnson took a handoff left, cut in, found the seam and then burst to the outside and outran the field for a 63-yard touchdown run at 11:10 of the first quarter, with the first of Chris King’s six successful kicks making it 7-0. King kicked five extra points as well as a 38-yard field goal.
Johnson finished the game with 155 yards rushing and three touchdowns on five carries, all in the first half, as Fort Hill took a 31-7 lead at the break. Fullback Dekarai Darr rushed for 92 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, and Alex Barnes picked up 42 yards on eight carries, scoring Fort Hill’s final touchdown.
The Sentinels came up with four turnovers, with Barnes recovering a fumble and intercepting a pass, and Ryan Shives and Johnson also picking off passes.
“We didn’t make plays at times, but we did,” said Appel. “We had three interceptions. They’re a pretty physical team, but we showed we’re more so. It’s a tribute to our weight program; it’s how we’ve been all year. We just have to keep on a roll, do what we’re supposed to do and keep getting better.”
After Johnson’s long burst, the Sentinels got the ball right back and needed just seven plays to go 56 yards for their next score, with quarterback Hunter Squires and end Ryan Shives beginning the drive with a 15-yard completion. Fort Hill pounded away with Johnson, Darr and Barnes before Darr broke a tackle and spun into the end zone from 10 yards out with 6:58 left in the first.
Manchester Valley came right back when quarterback Brody Coleman (12-for-32, 177 yards), on a third-and-14 from midfield, appeared to throw slightly behind receiver Zach Scott, who was under good coverage by the Sentinel defender. But Scott allowed the Fort Hill defender to get a step ahead of him and made a sensational one-handed come-back catch and took it down the sideline for the touchdown at 4:33.
“I thought our pass coverage was good tonight,” said Appel. “We did a lot of man (coverage) and did a good job of getting our hands on them and moving our feet well. But Manchester Valley came here to make plays, too.”
Fort Hill regained possession after a nine-play possession by the Mavericks and made it 21-7 when Johnson took a third-and-nine handoff at the Fort Hill 40 for his third touch of the game, went right, cut back and then burst through the secondary for the 60-yard TD run at 9:27 of the second.
Barnes’ interception at the Mavericks 12 then set up King’s 36-yard field goal at 6:30.
After another long Manchester Valley possession produced another punt, the Sentinels took advantage of Barnes’ special-teams fumble recovery to score in two plays with Johnson weaving his way through the secondary again for a 27-yard TD run at 2:22.
The Mavericks’ possession to close the first half and the one to open the second half totaled 22 plays (12 to open the second half) and resulted in a Ryan Shives’ interception at 6:38 of the third quarter. After the teams exchanged punts, Squires found Barnes for 43 yards on first down to put the ball at the Mavericks’ 10, and two plays later Darr was in the end zone from the five with 1:54 left in the third.
The final Fort Hill score was the result of a seven-play, 82-yard scoring drive, with Barnes picking up 20 yards to the 1, then going across at 9:37.
Having experienced little, if any, Homecoming Hangover, Fort Hill now looks ahead to 8-3 North Carroll in the Region title game.
“We’ve seen them three times, including tonight,” said Appel. “They have two fast backs so we’re just going to have to prepare and get better, and I believe we will.”
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at email@example.com