Quinn Cohen game winner in state championship

Fort Hill placekicker Quinn Cohen boots a 23-yard field goal as time expires to win the Class 1A state championship against Mountain Ridge on Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

ANNAPOLIS — Fort Hill placekicker Quinn Cohen is no stranger to last-second, game-winning field goals.

When he was tasked with a field goal try to give Fort Hill its ninth state title in school history, Cohen delivered again.

With two seconds on the clock and the ball at the Mountain Ridge six, Cohen split the uprights on a 23-yard field goal as time expired to send the Sentinels over the Miners, 16-14, on Saturday afternoon in the Class 1A state title game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

“I was just thinking my team supported me the whole year,” said Cohen, who initially made a 28-yard field goal to win it but was called off following an offside penalty on the Miners. “This is nothing different. Just got to go out and do what I do in practice every single day. Same thing, just different stage.”

It was a game that came full circle for Cohen, whose 39-yard field goal try with 6:46 to play to break the Miners’ 14-13 lead had plenty of leg on it, but was just wide at the left upright.

“He hit a game-winner earlier in the year, too,” Fort Hill head coach Zack Alkire said. “So we had faith that he was going to do that for us again, and he certainly did.”

In Week 2 at Old Mill, Cohen split the uprights on a 21-yard field goal as time expired to give Fort Hill a 9-7 victory.

The Sentinels put in a masterclass in clock management on their final drive to set up the field goal.

Following the field goal miss earlier in the fourth, Fort Hill’s defense forced a three-and-out on a drive that saw Mountain Ridge quarterback Uma Pua’auli forced out of the game with a lower body injury that bothered him throughout the second half.

With the Miners’ punter in Pua’auli out of the game, the punt from the Mountain Ridge 13 went just 24 yards, giving Fort Hill the ball with a one-point deficit 37 yards from the goal line with 4:52 to play.

“No,” Alkire joked when asked if playing for the field goal was the plan when the drive started. “The plan from the start was to get into the end zone. No offense, Quinn. But we want to punch it in with our offense and not have to kick it. But, we’ll take the win however we get the win.”

Instead, the Sentinels embarked on a 12-play drive that spanned the entire 4:52. A six-yard run by Mikey Allen was the longest non-penalty play of the drive.

The vital play of the drive — aside from Cohen’s concluding field goal — came on a four-yard run by Jabril Daniels to move the chains at the Mountain Ridge 28.

“They played awesome,” Alkire said of his team’s performance. “We talked at the beginning of the game about perseverance. They battled all game long. They were given an opportunity to win the game at the end and they pulled through.”

For the Miners, it was their second straight defeat in the state title game to the Sentinels, who won the 2021 meeting, 51-31.

“Played their guts out for me since the start,” Mountain Ridge head coach Ryan Patterson said of his team. “My seniors’ effort today doesn’t really do justice to what they’ve done for our program. These guys showed up to workouts all the time and did whatever we asked them to do. It was always going to be a special team, unfortunately we came up two seconds short.”

Mountain Ridge won the coin toss and elected to defer, and Allen got the Sentinels off to a positive start with a 36-yard kick return to the Fort Hill 40.

Three plays after a nine-yard run by Allen on third-and-2, Tavin Willis went into the end zone on a 12-yard run, with Cohen’s PAT at 6:47 giving the Sentinels a 7-0 lead.

Answering Fort Hill’s 10-play drive, the Miners marched right down the field thanks to 10- and 34-yard runs by Jaden Lee, followed up by a 14-yard pass from Pua’auli to Will Patterson. After a six-yard run by Lee on first-and-goal, Pua’auli plowed into the end zone from four yards out. Landon McAlpine’s PAT at 2:10 tied the game at 7-7.

The Miners stuffed the Sentinels on the ensuing drive, forcing a three-and-out and taking over at their own 46. On the final play of the opening frame, Pua’auli hit Tyson Shumaker for a 24-yard catch as time expired.

On the first play of the second quarter, Pua’auli hit McAlpine for a 30-yard touchdown. McAlpine’s PAT gave the Miners a lead it would hold for the next 35:55, as Mountain Ridge held a 14-7 lead.

The touchdown pass by Pua’auli was his 30th of the year, breaking the area single-season record previously shared by Mountain Ridge’s Bryce Snyder (2021) and Moorefield’s Will Fisher (1996). The senior QB had 71 yards through the air and just as many on the ground, completing 4 of 9 passes and carrying the ball 15 times.

The next Sentinels’ drive was every bit as impressive as their last, as Willis gained 30 yards on third-and-6 to prevent another three-and-out. Four plays later, Allen gained four yards on a fourth-and-3. Despite a false start two plays earlier, Willis darted up the right side following an end-around handoff from Allen to nab his second touchdown of the contest on a 27-yard scamper.

The Miners jumped offside on the PAT, so Fort Hill elected to go for two but was stuffed on the two-point run.

Mountain Ridge’s 14-13 lead carried into halftime, and up to Cohen’s game-winner.

The Miners, who had 13 first downs over the opening 24 minutes, had just one in the second half. It came on their second drive when Pua’auli kept an option run himself and gained 12 yards on third-and-6.

“Little bit of ball control on their part, they possessed the ball way longer than we wanted,” Patterson said of the lack of second half offense. “We needed to stack first downs, we didn’t do that. We had that lead, we played a little tight to our chest.”

Mountain Ridge found itself without Pua’auli for stretches of the second half due to his lower body injury.

“Anytime you lose somebody like Uma who’s one of our stars and was scrambling a little bit, not that Will couldn’t make the plays, but with Will at quarterback, now you got Will pulled from slot receiver,” Patterson said. “So we were on the shuffle there a little bit and that definitely wasn’t in our favor down the stretch.”

Over the final 24 minutes, Fort Hill’s defense limited the Miners to 23 yards and one first down.

“They’ve been lights out all season long,” Alkire said of his defense. “We’ve said that many times that the defense has been our calling card all year long. They may have bent a little bit in the first half, but they certainly didn’t in the second half. These kids whether it’s offense or defense or special teams, there’s no quit in them. They’re competitors. They want to win and they showed that today.”

Willis led the Sentinels’ 223-yard offensive output with 88 yards on 13 carries and two scores. Allen tacked on 59 yards on 15 rushes and Tanner Wertz had seven carries for 45 yards. Daniels added 12 carries for 27 yards.

“It’s great,” Daniels said of what it feels like to win a state title. “I’m only a sophomore. I plan on doing it the next two years.”

Kyle Bennett is a freelance sportswriter for the Times-News. Email him at kbennett@times-news.com or follow him on Twitter @KyleBennettCTN.

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