CUMBERLAND — Hunter Squires threw for two touchdowns and ran for another as third-ranked Fort Hill, unfazed by two big plays that threatened to erase a near perfect first half, upset top-ranked Allegany 21-20 for a fifth straight Homecoming win Saturday at Greenway Avenue Stadium.
The win, Fort Hill’s sixth in a row this season, was the Sentinels’ 50th against Allegany in the long-running City rivalry. The series resumes again in just six days as the second-seeded Sentinels (8-2) will host the third-seeded Campers (7-3) in the opening round of the West Region playoffs on Friday, at Greenway, at 7 p.m.
Squires, the Offensive Player of the Game, threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Travis Bush in the first quarter and a perfect 34-yard touchdown strike to Zac Elbin in the second, then put Fort Hill ahead to stay with a one-yard sneak midway through the fourth.
Micah May, the Defensive Player of the Game, had eight tackles and a sack. Zac Elbin, named the Great American Rivalry Series Player of the Game by the U.S. Marines, had a game-high nine tackles and Cody Arrigo eight as the Sentinels’ defense gave up just one touchdown. The Campers’ other touchdowns came on defense and special teams.
Christian Thomas, who had a six-yard touchdown run for Allegany, led all rushers with 16 carries for 127 yards. Madison Wolford ran 10 times for 77 yards. Jordan Shook had eight tackles and Kirk Robinette seven.
“This was an extremely big win,” said Fort Hill coach Todd Appel, now 5-0 in Homecoming games. “People counted us out, at the beginning of the year, to do great things. But these kids believed in themselves, in hard work and in their coaches. And good things happen when you do that.
“We have talented kids and they’ve found many different ways to win this year — kickoff returns, big pass plays, long runs and even grinding it out at times. And now this, today. This was a great team effort. I’m extremely proud of them.”
The Sentinels believed they could do it even after two great plays by Allegany — a 46-yard run by Wolford on a fake punt and a 58-yard interception return by Shook — appeared to take the wind out of their sails and gave Allegany a 20-14 lead with 5:58 left in the half.
Then, with Allegany on the doorstep again in the final seconds, Arrigo and Alex Barnes came up with a big tackle of Wolford at the goal line on fourth-and-six as the half expired.
“We told our kids at halftime that they scored their TDs on a fake punt and an interception return. Our defense was playing great and the offense was winning that battle,’’ Appel said. “Keep your head up and forget about those plays. Come out in the second half, stop them on downs, get the ball back and let’s put it in.”
Up 20-14, Allegany coach Tom Preaskorn felt the momentum shift after the half-ending stop at the one. It came a play after Carter Imes’ one-yard touchdown sneak was nullified by a penalty as the Campers hurried to line up for a fourth-and-goal as the half’s final seconds ticked off the clock.
“We made some big plays on the fake punt and interception and had stopped them, forced a punt, and were going in again,” he said. “We put it in the end zone but they called us for illegal procedure, and on the last play I thought we had the corner but we just didn’t make it.
“That was a big momentum changer. But we came out in the second half and were moving the ball and then fumbled on the long run. Against a quality team like that, you can’t make those mistakes.”
The Campers got the ball to begin the second half and appeared to regain the momentum when Thomas ran for 24 yards on the fourth play of the half. But the ball came loose at end of the run and Ryan Shives pounced on it.
“Alex Barnes caused the fumble and I saw it come out. I just dove for it and got it ... it was the greatest moment of my life,’’ said Shives.
The recovery set up the only touchdown of the second half, as Fort Hill went 60 yards in 11 plays. Five of the plays went for 10 or more yards, as Dekarai Darr had runs of 10, 12 and 13 yards, Ty Mance a run of 12 and Squires a keeper for 10. Squires one-yard sneak on third-and-goal tied it 20-20, and Chris King’s kick gave Fort Hill the lead with 6:17 left in the period.
Allegany got to the Fort Hill 38, but was forced to punt after a sack by May, and drove to the Fort Hill 37 on its final possession, but turned it over on downs when May tackled Thomas for no gain on third-and-nine, and Bush stopped Wolford two yards short on a seven-yard pass play on fourth down.
“Todd had a good game plan ... a ball-control offense and trying to keep it out of our hands,’’ said Preaskorn. “I was a little surprised they were able to move the ball well on us as well as they did. They spread it out a little bit and then ran it inside.”
Fort Hill was 6 for 7 on third-down conversions in the first half and 9 for 11 for the game.
“We mixed up some motion and other things and found ways to get Dekarai and Zac five, six and seven yards,’’ said Appel. “Gavin (Palumbo) did a great job mixing plays and formations, running some basic plays but disguising them a little bit, and John McKenney made some adjustments, along with Jeff Brode and Shaun Lewis, that helped our defense. It was a group effort, players and coaches, and that’s the kind of win you like, when everyone’s involved.”
Squires admitted a bit of an uneasy feeling with Allegany on top 20-14.
“I got a little nervous, for a little bit, but I had faith in my team that we could pull it off,’’ he said about his halftime thoughts. “We did plan to pass the ball a little bit. Our line’s been blocking good and the receivers made good plays. We have faith in our running and passing games, and we went out there and played together.”
Wolford’s fake punt run made it 14-12 with 9:01 left in the first half and Shook’s interception and 58-yard dash to the end zone gave Allegany its first lead, 18-14, at 5:58. Wolford made it 20-14 by running for the two-point conversion, the only successful conversion for Allegany, which did not attempt a kick. King was 3 for 3 on extra-point kicks for Fort Hill.
“I thought we had an opportunity there,’’ Preaskorn said of faking the kick and passing for a two-point try after the first touchdown. The pass fell incomplete. “We had a good play, and the wind was blowing. I don’t second guess doing that.
“We have to make some adjustments and go back at it,’’ he said, looking ahead to the rematch. “I think we can play better up front. I thought, offensively, they were handling us up front. We’ve got to do better.”
Allegany held a 314-276 edge in total offense and had possession for more than 15 of the 24 minutes in the second half. But each team had the ball only three times in the second half, and Allegany’s ended with a fumble, punt and on downs.
“We watched film and believed our game plan on defense would do the trick,” said May. “We switched a lot of things and made a lot of adjustments during the game, and we came through. Now we’ve got to get back to work for Friday.”
Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org