CUMBERLAND — The Fort Hill Sentinels, with their backs against the wall once again, delivered once again.
And they’re headed back to the state championship game, again.
Braeden Askins blocked three kicks, saved the day by blocking a field goal on the final play of regulation and sealed the win with the tackle on the deciding play of the game — a two-point conversion in overtime — as Fort Hill held off Lackey 34-33 in their Class 1A state semifinal Friday night at Greenway Avenue Stadium.
The win sends the Sentinels, 12-1 and winners of a record 19 straight playoff games, to next Saturday’s state championship game. A win next week would give the Sentinels a Maryland state record fifth straight state title. They will play the winner of today’s Havre de Grace-Dunbar game in the final, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis.
Tyreke Powell scored two touchdowns, the second on a 10-yard pass from Logan Johnson on the first play of overtime, Johnson threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, and Danny King booted a pair of field goals in leading Fort Hill back to Annapolis, where it beat Havre de Grace in last year’s championship game.
Fort Hill never trailed, but came perilously close to losing in overtime until coming up big defensively on another two-point conversion. Last week, Brayden Poling and Kaleb Harden made the big play against Allegany. This time it was Askins charging through the line and making the big hit that brought down quarterback Robert Middleton for a loss.
Middleton had run for nine yards and then scored on a one-yard run during Lackey’s overtime possession, bringing the score to 34-33. King had kicked the extra point for Fort Hill.
“I knew they were going to run the same play again. I just kept my eyes inside, I saw the quarterback bounce out towards me and I just came up and tried to make a play,” Askins said.
Askins made quite a few plays, and each one had a direct impact on the scoreboard. Rushing from the end untouched, he blocked an extra point in the first quarter to keep Fort Hill ahead 7-6, and blocked another in the third to help Fort Hill stay ahead 20-19.
The biggest in regulation came on the final play when he came off the end, dove and blocked a 26-yard field goal attempt by Jonathan Bridgett to force overtime.
“We’ve been practicing different ways for me to get in and block kicks in practice,” he said. “This week it just seemed to work out. They tried to get a man to try to stuff me a little bit. I guess it didn’t work out. It feels great.”
Fort Hill has won three games by a total of four points: Melbourne Catholic, 44-42; Allegany, 21-20; and now Lackey, 34-33.
Head coach Todd Appel had said weeks ago that the team’s motto is “believe.” He did, even when Lackey lined up for the potential game-winning field goal with 1.9 seconds on the clock. And when Lackey lined up for what would be, either way, the game-ending two-point conversion try.
“I do believe in these kids. There’s always doubts with everything in life,” he said. “You wonder. This year, so far, when the chips are down and their backs are against the wall, they’ve responded. It’s definitely our motto, and I’m glad it is our motto. Certainly, those kids believe and they play to the final seconds.”
Fort Hill led 17-6 at halftime after a 42-yard field goal by King and 20-6 after a 24-yard field goal by King with 5:16 left in the third.
But Lackey came roaring back on two touchdown runs by Jayson Wilmer, the second a 63-yarder with 39 seconds left in the third quarter. Still up by a point (20-19) because of Askins’ block, Johnson, two plays after a 21-yard run by Troy Banks, hit Poling in stride on a 39-yard touchdown pass to make it 27-19 on the third play of the fourth quarter.
Lackey (10-3) tied it with 1:33 left in regulation, going 45 yards in four plays. Middleton, after a 24-yard pass to Bridgett, had 5- and 19-yard runs before Bridgett scored on a 12-yard sweep to make it 27-25. Middleton plowed into the end zone on the conversion, tying it 27-27.
“We just didn’t put them away,” said Appel. “We watched a lot of film on Lackey and we told the kids they never quit. They actually get stronger in the third and fourth quarters. They have big offensive linemen and big defensive linemen. That wears on people and they seem to find a way to win in the third and fourth quarters.”
Lackey scored six points in the first two quarters and 21 in the third and fourth.
“(Quarterback) Robert Middleton has a lot to do with that. He’s a dynamic player who makes you miss and runs through tackles. The kids knew, I think, that on the two-point conversion he was going to get the ball, and I think that helped us where to find the ball.”
Poling, who had a 53-yard run in the fourth quarter, finished with 12 carries and 106 yards and Banks ran 16 times for 90 yards for Fort Hill. Johnson completed two passes, both to Poling, for 64 yards in regulation before hitting Powell with the TD pass in overtime.
Wilmer led Lackey with 14 carries and 183 yards, with a 41-yard run in the first and a 63-yarder in the third. Middleton ran 30 times for 120 yards. Bridgett caught three passes for 119 yards.
Follow Mike Mathews on Twitter @MikeMathewsCTN.
Fort Hill 34, Lackey 33. Sentinels win another nail biter, set sights on another state title. Game story: https://t.co/nEMeDOOkr2— Mike Mathews (@MikeMathewsCTN) November 25, 2017
Middleton stopped short Fort Hill wins 34-33 #CTNFF— Mike Mathews (@MikeMathewsCTN) November 25, 2017
Robert Middleton 1 yd TD RUN. Lackey going for 2#CTNFF— Mike Mathews (@MikeMathewsCTN) November 25, 2017