CUMBERLAND — The game began with Brayden Brown following the long red wall down the Fort Hill sideline for a 53-yard punt return for touchdown, and through four quarters of nose-to-nose football, it ended with the spectators who filled both sides of Greenway Avenue Stadium talking not about the speed-merchant Fort Hill offense, but the Fort Hill rugged defense, as the Sentinels wrapped up the top seed for the upcoming Maryland 1A West Region playoffs with a 17-7 victory over Allegany in Saturday’s Homecoming Game.
Brown, a junior, would be selected as the Offensive Player of the Game, while defensive lineman Brayden Conley, also a junior who had three sacks, including two in the Campers’ final possession, was selected Defensive Player of the Game.
“We knew Allegany was good,” Brown said after the game. “They always give us their best at Homecoming every year. But we’re coming together right now. We have players in the right spots, not too many two-way players, which is good. We’re coming together.”
Allegany had the first possession and punted after three downs, with Brown fielding it at the Fort Hill 47. As soon as the ball reached his hands, the return wall along the left sideline had been set up, and Brown wasted no time in following it to the end zone.
“I just caught it,” Brown said, “and the wall was on the left. Luke Hamilton made a great block, so I give it all to him. It was important to get up on them first.”
The Sentinels would soon get up on them by more after Imes was sacked by Conley to end Alco’s second possession. Highlighted by a 24-yard dump pass from quarterback Nathaniel Graves to Brown, Fort Hill marched 87 yards on 12 plays, with Graves using Brown as a shield on his 14-yard touchdown run with 2:42 left in the first.
Just when it appeared the Sentinels could be on the verge of a blowout win, Allegany quarterback Carson Imes displayed his disagreement with that notion by breaking off a gorgeous 70-yard run for a touchdown two plays later at 1:37 left in the quarter.
The only other scoring in the game occurred when Fort Hill’s Austin Farrell kicked a 24-yard field goal at 6:20 of the first half, and from that point, defense ruled. On both sides of the ball.
“Allegany came to play,” said Fort Hill lineman Tim Friend. “I’m very impressed. Carson Imes was great. He was able to abate our pass rush and make big plays.
“We’re celebrating right now, but we all know the overall picture was nowhere where we wanted. We’ve got to get back to work. Come Monday, we will.”
Allegany’s final chance came when it stopped Graves on a fourth-and-one at the Fort Hill 43. The Campers took over, but Imes, who did find Brendon Dougherty for a 10-yard gain, was stopped by Luke Stegmaier for a short gain, and sacked three times — once by Stegmaier and twice by Conley to turn the ball back over to the Sentinels for the final time.
“Allegany is a good team,” said Conley. “They played hard and wanted to beat us, but we were stronger, tougher and faster in the end. We played hard.”
Fort Hill end Ethan York, who also made big plays throughout the day, had Conley’s two sacks on his mind after the game.
“They were big,” York said. “If he doesn’t make those plays, Imes gets the passes off, gets it downfield and they catch a lot of balls. Imes was fast. He juked me a couple of times. He’s a good quarterback and he does a good job looking downfield and looking off receivers.”
Conley said of his sacks, “I just worked off the team aspect of things. I was able to get them off their blocks and went after them. They did some things that worked, and in the end it was like ‘We finally got them.’ “
“I thought Ethan (York) made a humungous hit on an early run by (Graves) that set the tone for the game,” said Fort Hill’s Stegmaier. “We’ll see them again. Some of their formations were different today. We knew they’d throw some stuff at us that we hadn’t seen.
“It was a great game. Now we focus on Northern.”
The Sentinels will focus on Northern, while the Campers will focus on undefeated and second-seeded Boonsboro.
“We stayed focus all week,” said Fort Hill’s Luke Hamilton, who also helped lead the defense. “We knew it was a big game. It was nothing to take lightly and we took the job at hand. The coaches prepared us all week. There was nothing we didn’t know. This is family. We do it together.”
While Hamilton, too, said it was time to focus on Northern, he couldn’t help himself in looking back on Saturday’s game one final time.
“This was a fun game to play in,” he said. “Allegany just came up with big plays and it seemed like we shut them down. And then they’d come up with more big plays and we’d shut them down again.
“We’re in a good position. But Monday we have to come together and begin to prepare real hard again.”
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeCTN