CUMBERLAND — When opportunity knocked someone wearing red usually answered Friday night at Greenway Avenue Stadium.
And because they did, the top-seeded Sentinels inched closer to a record-tying fourth straight state football championship.
Raen Smith ran for 93 yards and a touchdown, and Logan Johnson, Nathaniel Graves and Troy Banks also scored to lead the top-seeded Sentinels to a 26-14 win over second-seeded Allegany for the Class 1A West Region championship.
The win was the 23rd in a row and 10th straight over Allegany for Fort Hill (12-0), which will host Kent County (7-5) in a state semifinal next week. Allegany ended the season 10-2, the only losses coming to Fort Hill.
The Sentinels had scoring drives of 91 seconds and 7:45 in the first half and led 19-0 after three quarters.
But the real story of this game was what happened inside the 20-yard lines. Allegany drove into Fort Hill territory on six of its eight possessions. One ended on downs at the Fort Hill 5-yard line early in the game, and interceptions by Markel Spencer and Graves stopped the Campers in the second half. A 29-yard pass to the Fort Hill 2 late in the first quarter was nullified by a penalty.
Fort Hill made four trips inside Allegany territory and scored touchdowns on all four.
“Allegany came in with a different set than they have all year and did a good job running the fullback,’’ said Fort Hill coach Todd Appel. “At halftime, we told our kids that we had bent on defense, but we didn’t break. And we were up 12, which was more than we were at Homecoming.”
Fort Hill led 20-13 at the half two weeks ago and won the Homecoming game 48-13.
“We did a good job on a stop in the second half, and then we scored, which was big,” Appel said. “Our kids played hard and I’m extremely proud of them. They don’t ever quit. It was a tough, hard fought game.”
Allegany racked up 18 first downs, Karson Robinette ran for 122 yards, and the Campers won the time of possession by more than five minutes.
But it didn’t correspond on the scoreboard.
“Our kids played hard, but it all comes down to capitalizing,’’ said Allegany coach Bryan Hansel. “It seemed like (Fort Hill) got all the breaks. But they make the breaks, too. I’m not saying they get lucky by any means. They prepare and are a great team.
“I just think we needed a few breaks to go our way. We get a touchdown here, a stop there, a missed tackle here … and we’re in this game the whole way into the fourth quarter. Our kids played hard. I thought we were physical and matched their physicality. We just didn’t capitalize on the chances we had.”
Fort Hill took the opening kickoff and went 75 yards on five plays, scoring on a one-yard sneak by quarterback Logan Johnson. Brayden Poling had a 53-yard run and Johnson a 16-yard sneak before his touchdown that made it 6-0.
The rest of the half was defined by two long drives. Allegany went 75 yards in 12 plays, but the drive stalled after a first-and-goal from the five. Two short gains and a two-yard loss set up fourth-and-goal from the five, and Brayden Brown batted down a pass intended for Sean Rhodes at the three to end a 7:14 possession.
“We needed to capitalize on that drive,’’ Hansel said. “You have to put these guys down, and three points is not down to Fort Hill. People are going to kick me, and I might kick myself, for not kicking the field goal on the first drive. But they are three-time defending state champs. You’ve got to roll the dice and play the game. You’re not going to beat them with field goals.”
Early in the second quarter, Fort Hill, taking over at the six after an Allegany punt, marched 94 yards on a 15-play possession that consumed 7:45 and ended on an 11-yard sweep by Graves, who got a big block by Brayden Conley at the five. That made it 12-0 with only 51 seconds left in the half.
The two interceptions came in the second half. The first, on second-and-12 from the Fort Hill 48, was by Markel Spencer at the 20. He returned it 25 yards to the 45, and seven plays later Banks scored on a 12-yard run with 7:23 left on the third-quarter clock to make it 19-0.
The second was by Graves, who was cleared to play late this week after suffering an injury in the region semifinal win over Northern. It came on third-and-14 from the Fort Hill 25. Graves picked it off at the 3-yard line, and returned it to the 20.
“The interceptions were big, especially because they were down there within the 20-yard line,’’ said Appel. “The plays previous to that set it up. We put them on their heels a bit when we got them off schedule and they had to throw the ball.”
Fort Hill seemingly had the game in hand but a low snap led to an eight-yard punt late in the third quarter, giving Allegany the ball back at the Fort Hill 25.
This time, the Campers cashed in, with Robinette scoring on a one-yard run with 11:34 left in the game to make it 19-7.
After an exchange of punts, the Sentinels sent 48 yards for their final score, a six-yard run by Smith that moved the lead to 26-7 with 4:21 to go.
Allegany scored on its final possession, going 86 yards on 13 plays. Rhodes, who had a big game on offense and defense, had a 16-yard run, and Cameron Bratton had a 15-yard run, a 23-yard pass to R.J. Buford and a 29-yard pass to Llewellyn during the drive. Llewellyn scored, from four yards out, with 43 seconds left.
In addition to Smith’s 93 yards rushing, Brayden Brown ran eight times for 45 yards and caught two passes for 32 yards for Fort Hill. Conley had four tackles for loss, including three sacks in the fourth quarter.
Bratton threw for 94 yards and Llewellyn ran for 39 yards and caught two passes for 43 yards for Allegany.