CUMBERLAND — Mercy.
The Big Red Machine roared through the season’s final football game at Greenway Avenue Stadium, revving up for a shot at a record-tying fourth consecutive football state championship with a 49-6 victory over fourth-seeded Kent County in their Class 1A semifinal Saturday afternoon.
The top-seeded, unbeaten Sentinels (13-0) will play second-seeded Havre de Grace (10-2) in the state championship game at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in a rematch of last year’s title game, which Fort Hill won 44-14.
Havre de Grace beat No. 3 Edmonson/Westside Friday night 34-14.
A win in the title game would tie Urbana of Frederick County for most consecutive football state championships. Urbana won four in a row (three Class 2A titles and one 3A) from 1998 to 2001.
Because Navy and Temple won their games on Saturday, the Midshipmen will host the Owls in the American Athletic Conference championship game on Saturday. That pushes the Maryland state championship games back a week, with the 1A final Saturday, Dec. 10, at 3:30 p.m.
The official championship week schedule will be posted Monday morning on the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association web site, mpssaa.org.
The Sentinels, on a chilly afternoon with dreary skies overhead, wasted no time in punching their ticket to the championship. They scored on their first four possessions, then scored on a fumble recovery and a punt return, and led 41-0 at halftime.
Five players scored. Fort Hill had 298 yards of offense, attempted no passes, had three penalties and no turnovers.
“I’m not surprised by what these guys do,’’ said Fort Hill coach Todd Appel. “They really like to play. They really like to play for Fort Hill. And I’m extremely happy with the way they play.
“They play with a lot of heart. We have some kids that are banged up, but when it comes to game time, they really put on their hard-nosed hats and really play hard.”
Kent County (7-6) had no answer for Fort Hill’s offensive firepower, and was unable to do much of anything offensively in the first half because of the Sentinels fast, swarming defense.
“Fort Hill is a great team,’’ said Kent County coach Brendon Ireton. “Defensively, they are fast. They are very, very disciplined. Their offensive line is great.
“They have some guys who are good and can play, all across the board. And they are deep. Fort Hill’s a great team. A great program. Probably one of the best in the state if not the best, and we wish them good luck next week.”
Brayden Brown ran six times for 113 yards, Brayden Poling five times for 57 and Raen Smith eight times for 45 in leading a balanced rushing attack.
The Sentinels held the Trojans to a game-opening three-and-out, and after a 25-yard punt, marched 76 yards on 12 plays on a drive that consumed 5:30.
Smith carried the ball seven times for 42 of the yards, scoring on a two-yard run with 4:50 left in the quarter.
The other touchdowns came much quicker, and with a bit more flare.
Poling fielded a Kent punt on a hop a few minutes later and raced 54 yards down the Fort Hill sideline before being pulled down at the five-yard line. On the next play, Nathaniel Graves scored to make it 13-0 with 42 seconds on the clock.
Speedy Kent County quarterback Marcquan Greene (21 carries, 128 yards) broke free on a 39-yard run to get the Trojans to the Fort Hill 15, with Markel Spencer and Brown teaming for a touchdown-saving tackle.
The defense did its job from there, with Poling and Luke Hamilton stopping Arlington Johnson for a two-yard loss and, after an incompletion, Brayden Conley and Hamilton sacked Greene for a three-yard loss before Austin Martin stopped Greene on a short gain on fourth down.
From that point, it was all Fort Hill.
Poling ran for 39 yards, Brown ran for 20 more and, after a personal foul, Graves scored on a 24-yard run as the Sentinels went 83 yards on only three plays to make it 21-0 at the 9:21 mark of the second quarter.
Another Martin tackle of Green on fourth down gave Fort Hill the ball back and this time the offense went 60 yards on four plays with Brown cutting inside of a nice block by Holden Sibley and speeding 44 yards for the score.
Two plays later, Greene, on a hard hit at the line of scrimmage, coughed up the ball almost on a platter to Noah Steckman, who grabbed it in midair and ran 23 yards for a third touchdown in a span of 4:10 that made it 33-0 with 5:11 until halftime.
The special teams got into the act a few minutes later when Markel Spencer fielded a punt at the 48 and raced across the field and down the right sideline untouched for a TD that made it 41-0 at the 2:33 mark.
Appel said there was a clear message at halftime.
“We talked about some things. One was to make sure you don’t get involved in any controversy,’’ he said. “And play hard.
“We wanted to make sure we fielded their onside kick (to open the half) because we knew it’s coming. Let’s play hard and go on to next week.”
The onside kick rolled out of bounds at the Fort Hill 38, and four plays later the Sentinels were in the end zone again.
Troy Banks ran 29 yards on first down, and Brown broke off a 25-yarder to the Kent County eight-yard line. Poling ran six yards to the two, and scored from there on the next play to make it 49-0.
The 35-point running clock mercy rule made for a quick second half, and Kent averted the shutout when Greene hit Dashawn Lister on a 38-yard pass with just over a minute left. The clock expired before a conversion could be attempted.
Follow sports writer MIke Mathews on Twitter @MikeMathewsCTN.