Talk about a tune-up for the playoffs — against, no less, the team you’re going to be facing in the playoffs six days from now?
What kind of game was Fort Hill’s electrifying 21-20 victory over Allegany in the Homecoming Game Saturday at Greenway?
I had two ballots for offensive and defensive players of the game down to the final seconds. If Allegany won, Madison Wolford on offense, Jordan Shook on defense. If Fort Hill won, Hunter Squires on offense, Micah May on defense.
But what about Dekarai Darr, who picked up huge yardage for Fort Hill all day, or his teammate Zac Elbin, who might have been better than anybody on both offense and defense?
That’s how special this game was — one of the very best Allegany-Fort Hill games I’ve had the pleasure to witness, if not one of the finest high school football games you’ll ever see.
The media voted for Squires, the Fort Hill quarterback, who threw a pair of gorgeous touchdown passes and scored the one that tied the game at 20-20. The media voted for Fort Hill defensive lineman May, who had eight tackles, two that stopped potential big Camper gains for no gain, and an enormous quarterback sack. The United States Marines, on the other hand, who were on hand with The Great American Rivalry Series, voted for Elbin as the Most Valuable Player of the game and, as you would correctly imagine, I don’t make it a habit to get into arguments with Marines.
Elbin, in fact, played the game of his life and could be found on seemingly every inch of the field, turning up somehow in seemingly every play. He was the game’s leading tackler with nine, he rushed for 53 yards on 12 carries, and he caught a 34-yard touchdown pass, thrown beautifully by Squires, as the Sentinels pulled the upset over the heavily favored Campers.
“The million-to-one shot came in. Hell froze over. A month of Sundays hit the calendar,” wrote the great Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich on the occasion of Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Believe not for a moment, however, that the Fort Hill players in any way believe that applies to them and what they accomplished Saturday.
“They are good,” May said of Allegany, emphasizing the word good. “We were the underdogs because Allegany deserved to be the favorite. We had a chance and we took it.
“But we thought we’d win the whole time. We think we’re going to win every game. And now we have to get back to work on Monday. We’ll enjoy it tonight, but then it’s back to work.”
No apologies are needed for Allegany. The Campers were tough, and right there until the end. But that blasted failed attempt on the two-point conversion after their first touchdown brought them to within 7-6 just hung there all day. Amid the back-and-forth and the wonderful play by both teams, it was the elephant in the stadium. And in the end, with Chris King kicking three conversions through on Fort Hill touchdowns, and the Campers forced to go for two on their next two touchdowns — converting one — it was the difference in the game. Or at least the score.
Allegany head coach Tom Preaskorn said the Campers could not give up the big play if they were to win, and that they had to play fundamental football. They lost a critical fumble, they gave up the 34-yard TD pass and, on Fort Hill’s winning drive, five plays of 10 yards or more — three by Darr, and one each by Squires and Ty Mance.
Fort Hill head coach Todd Appel said the Sentinels had to keep the powerful Allegany offense off the field by keeping their own offense on the field. The Campers won time of possession, 26:04 to 21:56, but with the way the Fort Hill offensive line — Cody Arigo, Preston Bryant, Brennan Carlin, Roger Dawson, May and Michael Wright — won the battle with the Allegany front seven, it seemed at least the other way around.
It was an Allegany-Fort Hill game for the ages, at least until Friday night when the two of them do it all over again, this time with a full week to prepare for one another.
Fort Hill had until midnight this morning to celebrate their fifth straight Homecoming victory under Appel; Allegany has all week to channel its frustration and anger.
“Just because we won today, we know it’s not a string of pearls,” said Elbin. “This was a tough game and Friday will be tougher. We’re going to prepare and go into the game as underdog again.
“I hope we beat them again. We’ll give 100 percent to do it.”
Those of us who have grown old and cynical and who long for the way we were and for the way things used to be, were in no hurry to see these teams play each other again, much less play each other again less than a week from playing in the Homecoming Game. But after all Allegany and Fort Hill left out on the field on Saturday, after all they gave us in one of the greatest games in this great rivalry’s history ...
See you Friday.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org