Perhaps it’s too early to call it the Game of the Year, but at this stage of the high school football season, what choice do we have? Not that we have to call it anything other than what it is, which is to say Keyser at Fort Hill is always certain to bring a crowd to any venue, particularly when there will be 20 players on the field who received 30 mentions on the last Times-News All-Area Team as there will be Friday night at Greenway Avenue Stadium.
There will be the 2012 Area Player of the Year in Keyser’s Danny Fife, the Defensive Player of the Year in Fort Hill’s Cody Arigo and a total of 13 first-team All-Area picks from a year ago, three second-teamers and four honorable mention. Not to mention nine players who received notice on both sides of the ball. Fife, for instance, was first-team linebacker and punter, and second-team running back, as, other than a specialty position, a player is eligible to receive one first-team mention on the squad.
Last year’s game, of course, was not one for the ages, unless you were sitting on the Keyser side of the field, as the Golden Tornado throttled Fort Hill, 51-22, at Alumni Field at Tornado Alley. Keyser would go on to reach the West Virginia Class AA state championship game behind one of the best defenses in the state to finish 12-2.
While the immediate future was none too pleasant for the Sentinels, who absorbed another lopsided loss two weeks later at North Hagerstown, the big picture suddenly took off in a very positive flight, as Fort Hill rolled through a seven-game winning streak to finish 9-3 and advance to the Maryland 1A West Region championship game in which it fell to Brunswick in a 46-42 shootout.
It can be said that Fort Hill was a very young team a year ago, which would be very accurate. Yet the same can be said for Keyser as the Tornado had nine different underclassmen make the All-Area team — six of them first team. Conversely, Fort Hill had 10 different underclassmen on the squad, seven of them first team.
We will also hear it said by the faithful that the Sentinels played Keyser last year without the services of Ryan and RaShaan Shives and Dekarai Darr. This is also true, however injuries and such are part of the picture. Just ask the Keyser team from two years ago, which was hit with a flood of early injuries, leaving Coach Sean Biser no choice but to throw so many sophomores into action when they otherwise might not have been ready.
It seemed they were ready, though, for the Golden Tornado made the West Virginia playoffs that year and had a strong foundation for the great team of a year ago. This early in the season it remains to be seen what’s in store for either team, but while the pictures are very different, the cycles the two football programs have been on the past three seasons have been very similar.
Both teams will be entering Friday’s game on the strength of big wins, the Tornado beating Berkeley Springs, 59-0, and Fort Hill beating Silver Oak, 54-6. Keyser, however, has an extra game under its belt as West Virginia’s season began a week earlier than Maryland’s, and while the Week 1 result — a 45-22 loss — was not the desired one, the experience of playing a team the caliber of Wheeling Central, a Triple-A, power in West Virginia, should certainly pay off for Keyser.
Likewise, once hitting was permitted by the state of Maryland, some of the opponents the Sentinels faced in scrimmages over the summer — Morgantown, North Point, T.C. Williams, Henry Wise and Dunbar — should prove beneficial in the long run.
Safe to say, the area’s in store for a great football game and atmosphere. Old Greenway should be packed for two area rivals who have been going at it off and on since 1936. It will be Friday the 13th with an early forecast for 50-degree temperatures, zero-percent chance of rain, 74-percent humidity and a sunset of 7:27 p.m.
Sounds like the perfect High Life commercial, yes? Sounds like a great night of high school football, which around here seems to be the highest life of them all.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org