CUMBERLAND — The Fort Hill Sentinels began defense of their Class 1A state championship Friday night but a fourth straight football title was hardly on their minds.
Football took a back seat at Greenway Avenue Stadium when senior quarterback Nathaniel Graves was injured in the final seconds of the first half, which ended after a 25-minute delay with a near-motionless Graves on his back at the Northern six-yard line.
The Defensive Player of the Game of last week’s Homecoming game was knocked out of the game after taking a hit during a seven-yard run. He lost his helmet near the end of the play, and apparently took a hit to the head while reaching for the ball, which he had fumbled.
Fort Hill beat Northern 42-6 in the West Region semifinal. Graves was taken to the local hospital by ambulance.
“There were some signs that were good. And we’re all praying for Nathaniel. I think that he’ll be fine,’’ said Fort Hill coach Todd Appel. “His helmet came off accidentally, and he got hit in the head by a knee.
“Nathaniel is a great kid. He plays very hard, and he is loved by his teammates. We’re all praying for him. When he was carted off the field he pointed to his heart, telling the kids to play with a lot of heart.
“I talked to him on the field, and told him ‘just don’t think about football.’ And he said, ‘But that’s all I can think about right now.’
“He was thinking about his teammates. They actually played super in the second half. They played hard. They were playing for him.”
Raen Smith ran 10 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns, Brayden Brown ran five times for 55 yards, caught three passes for 34 yards and had 60 yards in punt returns, and Troy Banks had three carries, 76 yards and two touchdowns for the top-seeded Sentinels (11-0).
Graves completed 5 of 6 passes for 75 yards and had 26 yards rushing, and Brayden Poling ran five times for 83 yards for Fort Hill, which led 21-0 at halftime, then scored 21 points in the third quarter.
Cayleb Broadwater, the area’s leading rusher, ran 19 times for 90 yards for fourth-seeded Northern (8-2).
Fort Hill scored on its first three possessions — an 18-yard sweep by Brown and a 40-yard run with two big cuts against the grain by Smith in the first quarter, and a 13-yard run by Graves in the second before turnovers began taking their toll on both teams.
Northern lost three fumbles and Fort Hill two and a muffed punt in the second quarter.
The Huskies lost a fumbled pitch, recovered by Luke Hamilton, at the Fort Hill 10 with 1:29 left in the half. The Sentinels raced 77 yards on seven plays to get to the Northern 13 when the game took its sudden turn.
Graves, scrambling a bit and taking off from the 13, got to the six before being stopped by several Northern defenders, losing the ball, and getting hit with 16 seconds on the clock.
Appel said halftime was pretty rough.
“We said a little prayer, and it was really quiet,” he said, voice cracking a bit. “It was super quiet. Scary quiet. It was tough to deal with. We talked about him first, then talked as coaches, and then game planned it out, and told our guys what we needed to do in the second half, which basically was to not turn the ball over and not make stupid mistakes. And make sure we can run the ball, and we sure did.”
Poling ran for 56 yards on the second play of the second half. Banks, who scored a on a 2-yard run, scored on a 66-yard dash a few minutes later to make it 35-0. Smith had a nine-yard run late in the quarter to make it 42-0.
It was a tough way for Northern to end another banner season, and the third year in a row it ended in a playoff loss at Fort Hill.
The Huskies scored on an 80-yard drive, with Nate Durst scoring on a two-yard run, with six minutes left. The game ended with the Huskies losing a fumble inside the Fort Hill 10 after a Keygan Broadwater fumble recovery and 42-yard return. Northern had called several timeouts to try to punch in a final touchdown.
“We’ve preached to the kids to never quit or give up, so we can’t give up on them,” said Northern coach Phil Carr. “We’re going to play football till the clock says zero. Of course, we’re all praying for Graves and hope he’s okay.
“The second half we just ran out of gas. Their offensive line is good and their backs are very good. It’s a shame we lost the fumble near the goal line at the end of the first half, but our kids kept fighting the whole way. I think that was evident.”
It was the final game for 16 seniors. The team’s eight wins included the first ones ever at Smithsburg and Frankfort.
“We’ve accomplished a lot and done a lot of things to hang our hats on this year,” Carr said. “We have some athletes and tough kids. Sometimes we just don’t have enough. At the start of the year, if anyone said we’d be 8-1 and playing Fort Hill in the playoffs I don’t know if I would have bought it after the kids we lost last year.”
It was the third straight playoff appearance for the Huskies. Durst and quarterback Logan Yommer were four-year varsity players, and Denver Glotfelty was a three-year starter, never missing a game at left tackle.
Fort Hill will play the winner of today’s Boonsboro-Allegany game in next week’s region final at Greenway.