CUMBERLAND — Allegany and Fort Hill meet today for the 86th time, with the possibility of the 87th looming on the horizon, as the Cumberland City rivals square off today in the annual Homecoming Game, 12:30 p.m., at Greenway Avenue Stadium.
Both teams enter the game with 7-2 records, the Sentinels riding a five-game winning streak, and the Campers a two-game winning streak after its 42-8 win at Chestnut Ridge, coming on strong in the second half with what head coach Tom Preaskorn called “the best half of Allegany football in a long time.”
Allegany: 41 ppg.
Averaging 41 points per game this season, the Allegany offense has been a machine all season, with halfback Christian Thomas rushing for 966 yards and 17 touchdowns on 77 carries, averaging 107 yards per game and 12.54 yards per carry. Thomas is also the team’s leading receiver with 10 catches for 156 yards and a touchdown, accounting for 1,130 of the Campers’ 4,090 all-purpose yards.
Madison Wolford has gained 637 yards on 78 carries (8.16 average) as Allegany has five ballcarriers with over 200 yards rushing. Quarterback Carter Imes has completed 34 out of 60 passes for 618 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions.
“They’re really good,” Fort Hill head coach Todd Appel said of the Campers. “They’re big up front and you can tell they’ve been well coached up front. They’ve got backs of both nature, who can run through you or around you. Madison Wolford, I think, is really a good back. He blocks well, he runs well, he’ll run around you, he’ll run through you, and when he squares his shoulders, he’s good on the sweep.
“Christian Thomas, he’s a kid who can break the big one at any time. Dylan Shockey (40 carries, 278 yards) is a kid who’s going to get you yards behind that big offensive line.
“And Carter Imes is a great leader at quarterback. He’s started for three years and sometimes I think he’s a fifth-year senior he’s been there so long. Carter is the intangible they have that changes the game. They can run behind that big offensive line, but if that’s not working, he has that big arm, and it’s a pretty good one.”
Fort Hill: 41 ppg.
Though they don’t sport some of the big individual numbers that the Campers do, the Sentinels, too, are averaging 41 points per game.
“I think Fort Hill has really improved through the year,” said Preaskorn. “They have a lot of team speed, they’re well coached and they’re going to be a really big challenge for us.”
The Fort Hill offense has been directed by quarterback Hunter Squires, who has completed 33 of 56 passes for 504 yards, 11 touchdowns with two interceptions. His top receiver is split end Travis Bush with 18 catches for 356 yards and nine touchdowns.
Halfback Zac Elbin has rushed for 545 yards on 62 carries with 11 touchdowns, and has caught eight passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. Fullback Dekarai Darr enters today’s game with 538 yards on 64 carries with five touchdowns. Ty Mance and Alex Barnes have rushed for 271 and 257 yards respectively.
“We can’t give up the big play,” said Preaskorn. “We have to play fundamental football. The offensive and defensive lines, that’s the key, right there in the trenches. That and not giving up the big play.”
Appel understands when he looks at Allegany, big plays won’t come easily for his team today.
“(Allegany defensive end) Aniellio Destefano is a special kid,” said Appel. “He’s a player, a good football player on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they, again, are well coached, and Aniellio stands out in my mind. He’ll run you down on the edge, he’ll catch you from behind. His brother, Antonio Destefano (6-1, 273-pound tackle), is a problem too. He’s 280 pounds and he moves well. Chris Fram and Reid Lawson can run to the ball and are well coached.
“Their linebackers, Kirk Robinette and Shockey, they know what they’re doing and they find the ball on a pretty regular basis.
“It will be a tough task for us because Allegany is extremely talented.”
Appel says for Fort Hill to win, the Allegany offense will have to spend a good part of the day either watching Fort Hill play offense or defending Fort Hill’s offense.
“The key for us is to get them off the field, to get as many three and outs as many times as we can,” he said. “I don’t know how many times it can happen, but we have to keep the ball in our possession for as long as we can and score on them.
“We have to start the game with confidence; our kids have to believe they can do it early. I think they’ll be up to task, but it’s going to be a tall task. At the beginning of the year, we were predicted to get beat badly. Now people are crazy and saying we have a chance. I’ll see the tone of the kids for the first time (Thursday) when I get to see them.”
Neither Appel nor Preaskorn saw their players until Thursday as Allegany County schools were not in session Monday through Wednesday due to Hurricane Sandy.
“I have no idea how it will affect the game,” said Preaskorn. “It may be good. I’ve been spending time with the family and getting some things done ...
“No, I think both teams know each other pretty well; we’ve been following each other throughout the season. I think the big thing is being able to make the adjustments that need to be made. How the kids respond with so little practice time. The key defensively will be how we adjust to things.”
Said Appel of having just two days of practice before the Allegany game, “There’s no sense to complain because Allegany has faced the same thing. It is what it is. It will affect both teams and how they play and what mistakes they do or do not make. The lack of repetitions, sometimes that shows in the game. So special teams and and ballhandling will be important.”
Fort Hill has won five of the last six games with Allegany, and two in a row, including last year’s Homecoming Game, 50-7, a score Appel is certain the Campers will use as motivation for today’s game.
“I’m sure they will,” he said. “I probably would use it as motivation as a coach. We didn’t try to run it up on them, we were just very talented and they were 3-7. They have new kids and kids from last year. We have all new kids. This season Allegany has been saying, ‘Make it Personal,’ but it was nothing personal on my end.”
Preaskorn offered his point of view on the matter by saying, “I haven’t had much contact with the kids. Hey, we take one team at a time. The second half of our game last week was the best half of Allegany football in a long time. Hopefully that continues.”
Until we meet again?
As for meeting again, perhaps as soon as next week?
“I’m pretty sure we’ll get to play them again,” said Appel. “Maybe I’ll call Tom tomorrow and see if we can take a knee for Homecoming and just go right to the playoffs.
“It’s a very small chance us not playing them again. We’ll see.”
Preaskorn was of no mind to talk about what might or might not happen next week.
“There’s been a lot of talk about that,” he said. “But it won’t affect us at all. We have to win the football game and take the following week in stride.”
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org