CUMBERLAND — It’s become a recurring theme for Fort Hill’s game plans, particularly on defense, to pan out to perfection.
Friday night against top-ranked Mountain Ridge was no different. The Sentinels aligned a pair of disruptive defenders, TJ Lee and Carter Hess, on the same side of the line to free up space.
Lee delivered with a pair of sacks and a crucial third-quarter interception that put Fort Hill in the catbird seat. Meanwhile, Hess bullied the Miners’ offensive line with two sacks himself, as he was seemingly in quarterback Bryce Snyder’s face every time he dropped back.
With Snyder having little time to operate, No. 2 Fort Hill (6-0) suffocated the highly regarded Mountain Ridge (5-1) offense, winning 37-7.
“They cause a lot of pressure,” Fort Hill head coach Zack Alkire said. “We wanted to put Carter and TJ on the same side simply so they couldn’t just run at TJ.
“TJ is like 150 pounds soaking wet, but he’s a fighter. By putting Carter on his side they couldn’t just pick on TJ. It allowed Carter to take on double teams, TJ to get single coverage and use his speed and agility on bigger tackles.”
“We work hard every day in practice,” Lee said. “We run a lot. We question coach why we do the things we do, but when we put them fours up in the fourth quarter, we know what it’s about.”
Mountain Ridge came in averaging 56.2 points through five games, and the Sentinels nearly served a shutout with the lone blemish a late touchdown right before the first- half horn.
Snyder, who led the area entering Friday with 197.8 passing yards a contest and 18 total touchdowns, was limited to 5 of 17 passing and 36 yards. Repeatedly under duress, the talented gunslinger was sacked six times and tossed a pair of picks.
“They were in my lap a good bit,” Snyder said. “Number 77, Carter Hess, he’s a heck of a player. All credit to him. He’s only a sophomore. He’s just a heck of a football player right now.”
Through six games, Hess has accounted for 25 tackles, 3.5 sacks and a fumble recovery.
He credited Fort Hill’s discipline for shutting out Mountain Ridge over the course of the second half.
“We had a lot of discipline on both sides,” Hess said. “The first half, we didn’t do great, we weren’t that disciplined. In the second half, we came out, we kept punching them in the mouth. We just showed them we could play.
“We really picked it up. The first half we had some mess-ups, but the second half we came out and started putting a lot more pressure on his throwing arm, and then we started getting more tackles.”
With Hess soaking up pressure from Mountain Ridge’s offensive line, Lee, who’s now up to 37.5 tackles and an area-best 6.5 sacks for the season, was all over the field.
Lee’s biggest play came on the first play of the Miners’ second series, when he read a Snyder screen pass and came up with an interception that flipped the field.
Fort Hill quarterback Bryce Schadt punched it into the end zone three plays later with 8:01 left in the third. It was the Sentinels’ first points of the second half, making it 24-7, and they never looked back.
“The tackle left me,” said Lee. “All practice we were talking, if the tackle doesn’t even put a hand on you, sit. As soon as I sat, his eyes got big, and I caught the football.”
Ray Whorton and Landen Keech added a sack each themselves.
Though it’s an overused cliché to say a football game is won in the trenches, it was the case Friday night. Against a potent offense that’s decimated every opponent on its schedule thus far, the Sentinels’ defensive line play turned what’s usually an asset into a weakness.
Fort Hill was hungry to prove it’s the top dog in the area, and the Sentinels succeeded. Going forward, Fort Hill will have a target on its back, but that’s nothing new.
Lee is confident he and his Sentinel teammates won’t let it get to their heads.
“Day by day, practice by practice, discipline, discipline, discipline,” Lee said. “Keep our heads high and stay humble. Come out to work every week.”