CUMBERLAND — The Fort Hill Sentinels opened defense of their Class 1A state football championship the way most people expected.
They were all business.
Logan Johnson, who didn’t attempt a pass in last week’s Homecoming win, completed 8 of 11 for 156 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and also ran five times for 91 yards, as the top-seeded Sentinels handled fourth-seeded Southern, 48-6, in a cold, windy night at Greenway Avenue Stadium.
Six Sentinels scored touchdowns, the four-time defending champions led 42-0 at halftime, improved to 10-1 overall and broke a state record with their 17th straight state tournament victory.
Anthony Smith caught both touchdown passes, a 17-yarder early in the second quarter and a 9-yarder just two minutes before halftime and finished with 4 catches for 83 yards.
Tyreke Powell, Troy Banks, Jadon Hoover and Braeden Askins also scored for Fort Hill, which will host the winner of today’s Allegany-Boonsboro game on Friday night at Greenway for the West Region championship.
“We tried to do some different things tonight,” Fort Hill coach Todd Appel said. “We tried to work on our passing game and on our 2-minute offense.
“Overall, I think we played really well defensively. We gave up a couple of first downs in the first quarter that we weren’t happy about, but we know Southern is a pretty good team and they can ball-control you when they’re playing right. For the most part, we played good enough defense that we were able to get the ball back and score.”
Southern (8-3) had three first downs in the first eight minutes and had the ball for more than nine minutes of the first period but trailed 14-0 going into the second.
“I thought we had a lot of good, small successes early in the game,” said Southern coach Jon Nazelrod, who had the Rams in the playoffs for the first time since 2001. “We moved the ball. They had a lot of good backside pursuit.
“We just need to go back and get stronger, faster and bigger.”
One of the Sentinels’ trademarks has been the ability to score quickly, and they did it again against the Rams. After Southern’s 4:16 opening possession that ended in a punt, Fort Hill went 46 yards in five plays and just 1:48. Powell, who began the series with a 25-yard sweep, scored on a 4-yard run at the 5:58 mark.
A 68-yard punt by Alec Horner pinned Fort Hill at its 18, but on the first play Johnson followed Banks through the left side and sprinted 82 yards for a touchdown, making it 14-0 with 4:37 left in the quarter.
Later in the quarter, a tipped ball ended up in the hands of Askins for an interception at the Southern 24, and two plays later, on the first play of the second quarter, Banks dashed in from 21 yards out to make it 21-0.
The Sentinels scored four touchdowns in a 9:22 span of the second quarter, the drives covering 24 yards in 20 seconds, 47 yards in 61 seconds, 45 yards in 1:46, and 40 yards in 16 seconds.
After the Banks TD, Johnson hit Smith for a 17-yard touchdown at the 9:05 mark; had a 16-yard pass to Smith and a 15-yarder to Hoover to set up a 10-yard touchdown run by Hoover with 4:08 left; and found Hoover for a 31-yard pass that set up a 9-yard scoring strike to Smith with 2:29 on the clock that made it 42-0.
“We can throw the ball,” Appel said. “We’ve got to block a little better up front when there are backers coming. But for the most part, we did what we needed to do. We saw what we wanted to see. And we have options.”
The Sentinels used 12 different ballcarriers and finished with 299 yards rushing. They led Southern in total offense, 455-154.
“We just want to stay healthy this time of year,” Appel said. “We want to stay healthy and have everybody ready to play next Friday night. This time of year, you’ve got a lot of wear and tear on your body. We’re a 1A football team. People can forget that. We have people who play both ways, especially our key players.”
Askins scored on a 27-yard run midway through the third quarter for Fort Hill.
Southern got on the board when Hayden McLaughlin hit Brandon Lucas with a 26-yard touchdown pass with 9:07 left in the fourth, making it 48-6.
The loss didn’t dampen the spirits of the Rams or Nazelrod. In fact, it was the opposite.
“If you take a good hard look at our starting lineup, I believe nine of the 11 were juniors. We will be back. It’s just a matter of time. You don’t go out and plant your seeds and look for your crop the next day.
“I’m really proud of every last senior. Overall, it was our first winning season in 17 years, first playoff berth in 17 years and the school spirit is back. We’re just going to keep on trying as hard as we can, and I can’t wait to get back to work on Monday.”
McLaughlin led the Rams, completing 7 of 19 passes for 68 yards and also running for 29 yards. Nathan Tasker had an interception and Kris Tusing and Jace Guy recovered fumbles.
Askins and Hoover picked off passes for Fort Hill.
Follow Mike Mathews on Twitter @MikeMathewsCTN.
Fort Hill takes first step to fifth straight state championship: https://t.co/exwiVrGn3U— Mike Mathews (@MikeMathewsCTN) November 11, 2017
Final: Fort Hill 48, Southern 6 #CTNFF— Mike Mathews (@MikeMathewsCTN) November 11, 2017
Southern's Brandon Lucas 25 yard TD pass from Hayden McLaughlin. Fort Hill 48, Southern 6. 9:07 left in game #CTNFF— Mike Mathews (@MikeMathewsCTN) November 11, 2017