Cumberland Times-News

Local Sports

December 6, 2013

Sentinels, Ducks duke it out for title

Fort Hill fights for third championship today at noon

BALTIMORE — Business as usual and nothing out of the ordinary, even though it has been anything but an ordinary week and this is anything but an ordinary day. But that’s how the second-seeded and undefeated Fort Hill Sentinels have been approaching it in preparing for today’s Maryland 1A State Championship Game against top-seeded and undefeated Frederick Douglass of Baltimore that kicks off at noon at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Sentinels (13-0) reached a state title game for the ninth time in school history with a 42-0 semifinal win over Surrattsville. Fort Hill is gunning for its first title since 1997 when it defeated Dunbar for the 2A title at the University of Maryland, and third overall. The Sentinels won their first state title in 1975 when they beat the Frederick Douglass Eagles of Upper Marlboro in Class A (now 3A) at Friendly High School.

The Frederick Douglass Fighting Ducks (13-0) of Baltimore enter their first state championship game as the top seed in the class. Douglass had never won a playoff game until this season, but reached this year’s final with a 68-0 win over DuBois, a 20-14 double-overtime win over Edmondson and last weekend’s 54-13 win over Cambridge-South Dorchester in the semifinals.

The Ducks stumbled a little bit out of the gate, falling behind 6-0 to Cambridge, but then converted four of five Cambridge turnovers into touchdowns. Quarterback Camron West passed for four touchdowns, completing 8 of 14 for 159 yards — two to wide receiver Michael Owens and one each to Charles Smith and Agin Hasan. West also ran for a touchdown for Douglass, as did running backs Da'Quan Alexander and Azariah Bratton-Bey.

“They’ve got a super explosive team,” Fort Hill head coach Todd Appel said of the Ducks. “They’ve got skill kids who can take it the distance. The quarterback does a great job finding his receivers and finding the time to find his receivers.

“They’re always in the spread. Very rarely are they under center. They zone block when they run the ball and they do a good job of it. They’re a well-coached team. They cut back, so our linebackers have to stay in their running lanes and cover when they throw, which is 50 percent of the time. Their receivers do a nice job of working back to the quarterback and he uses his legs and his skill to find the time to throw. He’ll run around you and is elusive. He’s very good.

“Defensively they’re super aggressive. They get upfield and attack. They’re always in the backfield. They’re very aggressive and explosive.”

Douglass has allowed just 69 points this season and has six shutouts.

For the Sentinels to contain that aggressiveness they’ll rely on the running game that has continued to put up pinball numbers in the three postseason games. Fort Hill has gained 1,146 yards of total offense in three playoff games, with 928 coming on the ground on 78 carries, a yards-per carry average of 11.9.

Halfback Ty Johnson has rushed for 388 yards and six touchdowns on just 11 carries for 35.3 yards per carry. Fullback Dekarai Darr has 363 yards and six touchdowns on 20 carries (18.2 per carry) and Alex Barnes has gained 103 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries.

“We want to control the football, but we’re not beyond striking with the big play,” said Appel. “No different than all year — control the ball and keep it out of their hands, and both defenses are pretty good.

“We have to execute and play well.”

Darr is the leading rusher this season for Fort Hill with 1,575 yards and 23 touchdowns on 141 carries (11.2), while Johnson has rushed for 1,167 yards and 16 touchdowns on 62 carries (18.8). Barnes has gained 681 yards and scored seven touchdowns, averaging 9.5 yards per carry.

As Appel said, the Sentinels have proven capable of striking through the air, as quarterback Hunter Squires has completed 53 of 94 passes for 934 yards and nine touchdowns with just three interceptions. Ryan Shives and Devin Shreve are Fort Hill’s leading receivers, both with 22 catches, Shives’ covering 417 yards and two touchdowns and Shreve’s totaling 269 yards and three touchdowns. Johnson has caught 15 passes for 332 yards and five touchdowns, giving him 23 for the season.

 “The week’s gone pretty well,” Appel said of his team’s preparations. “We don’t practice as long at this stage. We have most of the things in. With the shorter daylight, we’ve gotten things in with the time we’ve had.

“We’ve tried to keep it as any other week with all the distractions that this game creates and all the things that come with it. We’ve just tried to keep it out of the kids’ faces so they can focus and execute.”

Appels says it was an easy for week for him and his coaching staff to get their points across.

“(The players have) been focused,” he said. “They really want to do this. It’s 14 games and it’s a long year; people are tired, but their goal is right in front of them, which lends to their self-motivation in practice, in the film room and, hopefully, Saturday at noon.

“They really want to do this and, hopefully, we will.”

The game can be seen live on the THIS network, channel 152 on the Atlantic Broadband dial.

Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at


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