No one can predict the future. Not me, not you.
If we could, I can’t help but think society would just be that scene from Bruce Almighty.
“Debbie won the lottery.”
“Yeah! Well, she and about 400,000 other people, so she only won 17 bucks.”
I can’t tell you what’s going to happen this Friday when the lights come on at Greenway Avenue Stadium and one of No. 1 Mountain Ridge’s Ashton Shimko or No. 2 Fort Hill’s Jacob Tichnell kicks off to start one of the more anticipated high school football regular-season matchups in recent history.
However, I think it’s fair to point out some observations heading into Friday’s contest.
Mountain Ridge’s depth problem
The Miners have a great team this season. Potentially great enough to play for a state championship. But depth is necessary when you go against the likes of Fort Hill, especially in its backyard.
It’s a tale as old as time. Go to Greenway. Be in the game for the first half. Then get put through a table by the Fort Hill offense in the second half.
To a degree, it happened last week. Oakdale trailed 28-0 at halftime, but the game seemed a heck of a lot closer than that. Why did it seem close? We’ll get to that next.
But Oakdale came out of the halftime break, got a big kick return to start, then scored its first and only touchdown. Fort Hill responded with a drive that went 56 yards on 13 plays and spanned 5:54. The Bears’ fatigue was evident and they stood a snowball’s chance in hell at coming back.
Here’s what Mountain Ridge head coach Ryan Patterson said after his team’s 48-13 win over Frankfort last Friday.
“We’ve got to get healthy. Our depth is the thing I’m most concerned about. I was concerned about it coming into the season, I’m concerned about it now. You’ve got obviously our best team we’re going to play all year coming up next, so depth is a concern for me.”
Patterson admitted after the Miners beat Fort Hill in the spring — we’ll get to that in a bit, too — that in order to beat the Sentinels, you have to match their physicality. If Patterson and the Miners plan on doing that Friday night, that depth is going to have to show up in a big way.
Fort Hill’s special teams coverage
Oakdale had 11 drives last week. Here is where they began: Oakdale 40, Oakdale 43, Fort Hill 41, Fort Hill 2, Fort Hill 9, Oakdale 43, Oakdale 20, Fort Hill 8, Oakdale 35, Oakdale 25, Oakdale 45.
The drive starting at the Fort Hill 41 was a fumble recovery and the Fort Hill 2 drive was the result of a 66-yard interception return. Nine of the drives began following a kickoff or punt.
Special teams coverage was something Fort Hill head coach Zack Alkire has been looking at since preseason.
“So far, the biggest area of need is special teams,” he said prior to Week 1. “Football is a three-phase sport. You need offense, defense and special teams. Right now we’re on track for offense and defense, but the special teams is really lacking. We need to get better there. That was evident in the New Town scrimmage. New Town had two kickoff returns for a touchdown. We missed an extra point. We almost had a punt blocked.”
Against Frankfort a night prior, Mountain Ridge had 14 drives. The Miners starting field positions were: Frankfort 49, Mountain Ridge 48, Frankfort 42, Mountain Ridge 40, Mountain Ridge 21, Frankfort 36, Frankfort 44, Mountain Ridge 40, Frankfort 41, Frankfort 11, Frankfort 14, Mountain Ridge 36, Mountain Ridge 40 and Mountain Ridge 22.
The Miners’ drives that started off turnovers were drives beginning at the Frankfort 36, Frankfort 14 and Mountain Ridge 36.
Taking out the drives that began due to another team’s turnover, Oakdale averaged 51.8 yards to goal against Fort Hill, while Mountain Ridge averaged 52.4 yards to goal versus Frankfort.
Oakdale finished with 175 yards of offense, while the Miners lit up the Frankfort defense for 467 yards. If Mountain Ridge can see similar success in the return game as Oakdale, and the Miners can execute better than the Bears did, then we may see a different outcome than last Saturday’s drubbing at Greenway; or, at the very least, a much closer contest.
How do Mountain Ridge’s wins stack up against Fort Hill’s?
Entering last week’s matchup with Frankfort, it wasn’t exactly a secret that the Miners hadn’t played the best of competition. Patterson knew his team would face some adversity against the Falcons, and they did. But outside of the game against the 4-1 Allegany Campers, No. 3 in the Area Top Five, Mountain Ridge’s other three opponents — Southern, Catoctin and Smithsburg — prior to Frankfort (4-2) are currently a combined 1-12.
Now, that doesn’t discredit Mountain Ridge dismantling their 2021 opponents by a combined 281-25, but the quality does have to be mentioned.
- Fort Hill, meanwhile, has wins over Class 4A Old Mill, Class 3A Oakdale, who a week prior took Linganore, No. 11 in the Maryland High School Football Media State Poll, to overtime, and a win over Northern, who is No. 4 in the Area Top Five after back-to-back wins over Frankfort and Keyser. And that’s before mentioning the Sentinels’ MASH unit fending off Pennsylvania Class AAAAA Hollidaysburg with almost a dozen players in COVID quarantine.
How much, if any, posturing will go on?
It’s no secret that both of these teams are capable of playing for a state title this season. Thanks to playoff changes made a few years ago, coupled with Maryland splitting up into six classifications for the 2021 season, there’s a pretty good chance these two see each other late in the playoffs, potentially for all the marbles in Annapolis.
So, how much, if at all, will the possibility of a second meeting go into either team’s game plan Friday night? Will we see Breven Stubbs out of the backfield a week after he tallied one carry for 57 yards? Will Mountain Ridge get Jaden Lee out of the backfield and try to get the ball in his hands on the perimeter more?
What will the crowd be like?
Last week’s game against Oakdale seemed to have the potential for a fantastic turnout from area football fans. Saturday afternoon, perfect weather, and a strong team coming to Greenway. Although it did eventually fill in, I can’t help but feel the atmosphere was lackluster. Maybe it was tough to gauge from the press box, but I personally expected more people there. Will it be a packed house Friday night with two local teams involved? Every player on both teams certainly deserve it.
That game seven months ago did, in fact, happen
No matter what someone on Facebook tries to tell you, Mountain Ridge did in fact beat Fort Hill, 27-20, back in March.
Sure, teams were both missing players. Some people will tell you one team was much more motivated to win that game than the other because one team had nothing to play for, but then completely ignore the fact that both teams had the exact same thing to play for when they met last fall as they did when they met in the spring.
That game a year ago also happened
Speaking of, that game on Halloween 2020 also happened. Fort Hill won 31-6, marking Alkire’s first win as varsity head coach. I witnessed it with my own two eyes, just like I did the game a few months after, and just like I will this meeting tomorrow night.
Typically, games that get hyped this much never live up to it.
Remember three years ago when Mountain Ridge and Sefa Pua’auli — one of the most talented football players this area has seen this turn of the century — came to Greenway in a highly-anticipated matchup, only for the Fort Hill defense to hold Pua’auli to single-digit yards?
No rational human being would have predicted that — especially after Pua’auli, who went on to win co-Player of the Year, ran for 370 yards against Spring Mills the week prior. Anyone that tries to tell you they predicted Fort Hill would hold Pua’auli to enough yards to count on one hand will probably turn around and try to sell you oceanfront property in Nebraska.
This year is a wildly different scenario. These Miners and these Sentinels are much different teams than their 2018 counterparts. But, the point stands.
As far as Friday night is concerned, in case you haven’t done the math yet, you’re not going to get a prediction from me, Kyle Bennett, otherwise known as technically the Cumberland Times-News Fearless Forecasters defending champion.
Besides, football isn’t played in the stat sheet or on a piece of off-white paper that the Cumberland Times-News publishes or through the airwaves of one of the local radio stations. As Northern proved the past two weeks, or Keyser three weeks ago, football games are decided exclusively on the field.
Maybe the past is only the future with the lights on, but I wouldn’t bet against either team come 7 p.m. Friday evening.