Fort Hill football coach Todd Appel has tried his best to describe his team’s turnaround from a couple of early-season blowouts and its ability to now find ways to win during a seven-game streak that has put the Sentinels on the doorstep of another region championship.
Friday night was no different after another 21-20 win over Allegany in the West Region semifinals.
There should be no more unbelievers after the Sentinels’ overtime win. This is a dangerous team for several reasons, but the biggest is that they never seem to take ‘no’ for an answer.
If fourth-seeded Brunswick’s 39-16 win over top-seeded Boonsboro (a 70-point swing when comparing Boonsboro’s 47-0 regular-season victory just three weeks earlier) was improbable, then maybe Fort Hill’s win over Allegany was too.
Usually the losing team is the one that:
• has five turnovers;
• fails to capitalize and score when having two of its first three and half of its first-half possessions begin in an opponent’s territory;
• had minus-1 yard of offense in the second quarter and six of 14 running plays in the second and third periods be stopped for negative yardage;
• had an opponent run the ball 51 times, have only one turnover, and hold a seven-minute edge in possession time.
But it wasn’t a usual Friday night at Greenway Avenue Stadium.
“I give a lot of credit to Allegany. They had a great defensive game plan,’’ Appel said regarding the turnovers. “We had to throw the ball a good bit and that led to some turnovers. We had to go for broke at times and do some different things that we haven’t done to try to just move the ball, and that led to some turnovers, too.”
Credit the Fort Hill defense too, because none of the Sentinels’ turnovers led to any points for the Campers.
Fort Hill, which had only 47 yards of offense during the second and third quarters, rolled up 148 in the fourth. The Sentinels went 79 yards in only five plays with Micah May scoring the game-tying touchdown. But how many times does an offensive team recover a fumble deep in the secondary, some 15 yards from the line of scrimmage?
Not often. But that’s what happened when May recovered a fumble maybe five or six yards into the end zone. There were several Campers there but not as close as May. Another bounce or two and the ball rolls through the end zone for a touchback instead of a touchdown.
Then there’s the case of overtime. You want to be a high school football coach? You think it’s easy calling the plays?
After Allegany’s touchdown, what would have been your call on the two-point try? A blocked kick in the first half and a missed 35-yard field goal in the second led Allegany to decide to go for two.
The Campers went with Dylan Shockey. And why not? He ran for nearly 100 yards in the second half, was unstoppable at times with 24- and 20-yard bursts, and scored twice.
But Fort Hill came up with the big play and now, no doubt, some likely say it was stopped because it was the obvious call. But go with something else and be stopped and the question would be why the most successful play wasn’t called with the game on the line?
There was plenty of talking going on on the Fort Hill sideline at the time. If the defense failed on the two-point try, it wouldn’t be because it was surprised.
“I was telling our coaches to talk to the guys about everything,’’ said Appel, who was upstairs in the coaches box atop the press box. “We talked about the fullback ... about the sweep to Madison Wolford ... we reminded them about everything. We talked about everything we could possibly think of in the amount of time we had (prior to the play).
“The credit goes to the kids. They’re on the field. They’re the ones that have to make the adjustments and see their reads and play football. What a remarkable win for the kids, and to have faith in themselves and play hard right to the end.”
That’s not to say the Campers did not play hard to the end. They did and no one can deny it. But a 14-0 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter wasn’t quite enough.
What was enough, for Fort Hill, was place-kicker Chris King. He was more than enough; he was perfect. In two one-point games against Allegany, he was 6-for-6 on extra-point kicks. The Campers, whether kicking or going for two after touchdowns, were 2 for 6.
How did Fort Hill win, again? It’s difficult to come up with the right words.
“I don’t know,’’ said Cody Arigo, who made the game-ending, season-extending tackle. “We just stuck together. We don’t quit and that means so much.”
They don’t know how, but they know they will.
“They just play hard and they don’t ever believe they are out of a game. That’s come about since the Central game (a 29-21 win),” said Appel. “It’s been a miraculous thing, and I can’t really explain it.
“They play, and it just happens.”
Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org