Sentinels dine on Duck

Fort Hill running back Ty Johnson cuts past the second level of defenders Saturday afternoon during Fort Hill’s 25-0 win over Douglass for the Maryland 1A State Championship at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. The halfback ran for 87 yards on 10 touches as part of a 307-yard rushing attack by the Sentinels.

BALTIMORE — Mission accomplished.

And in perfect fashion to boot.

Alex Barnes scored three touchdowns and the defense gave up next to nothing as the Fort Hill Sentinels had their way with Frederick Douglass Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in a convincing 25-0 victory in the Class 1A football state championship game.

It’s the third state football championship in school history, with all three title game wins capping undefeated seasons. The Sentinels’ other state crowns came in 1997 and 1975.

Saturday’s win completed a demolition of the Class 1A state tournament field. The Sentinels (14-0) beat Manchester Valley, North Carroll, Surrattsville and Douglass, of Baltimore City, by a whopping 162-13 margin.

The defense ended the season with back-to-back shutouts. The Sentinels blanked Surrattsville 42-0 in the semifinals a week ago at Greenway Avenue Stadium.

“Defense ... that’s what won us the game,’’ said Fort Hill coach Todd Appel, now 66-11 in six years as head coach. “It was a struggle offensively at times, because (Douglass) has a great defense.

“Our kids executed well. They played hard. They don’t give up. They keep on digging. And they knew if they played hard, they could be the better team at the end. And that’s what they certainly did today.”

The Sentinels led by just a touchdown at halftime but because of the way the defense had played it seemed like a lot more. Douglass, which had beaten Cambridge-South Dorchester 54-13 a week ago in the state semifinals and had scored 142 points in three playoff games, managed just 43 yards of offense in the first half and finished with 92.

The defense was relentless in hounding quarterback Camron West and had 15 tackles for losses. The Fort Hill defensive line did an exceptional job, tackling the quarterback 10 times behind the line of scrimmage.

“Our coaches told us we just have to keep fighting,” said senior lineman Cody Arigo, who had four sacks. “And that’s what we did. Our defense ... I thought we were tenacious. We keep fighting and we don’t give up.”

Joe Mundella was in on three sacks. Douglass (13-1), which ran 32 times, had just 22 net yards rushing.

“We knew if we could beat them up front they’d give us the opportunity for some big losses,’’ Appel said. “When the quarterback scurries, he goes backward. And if we were relentless and kept getting after his tail, we thought we were going to have some big losses during the game. That’s what we did.”

Fort Hill outgained Douglass 307-92, with all 307 yards coming on the ground. Barnes led the way with 12 carries and 114 yards, with all three of his touchdowns coming in the second half. Dekarai Darr ran 22 times for 95 yards and Ty Johnson 10 times for 87 yards. Of Fort Hill’s 51 runs, only four went for negative yardage.

Davon Monette gave Douglass an early opportunity with an interception late in the first quarter near midfield. An incomplete pass, a tackle by Trenton Swan for a two-yard loss and a 16-yard sack by Arigo and Mundella stopped the Ducks cold, and set up the first score of the day.

The Sentinels took over at their own 32 after a punt and Barnes came up with the first big offensive play with a 17-yard run on third-and-six from the 36. A play later, Johnson went off left tackle, following lead blocks by Brennan Carlin and Timmy Friend, for a a 30-yard gain to the 14, and had a 10-yard run a play later to get to the five.

Darr powered in from the five on third-and-one to put Fort Hill on the board. Chris King’s kick made it 7-0 with 7:33 left in the half.

The Fort Hill defense went back to work early in the third quarter, with Barnes and Johnson coming up with momentum-turning interceptions.

“Alex is a hard-nosed, tough kid who’s come up with a lot of big plays for us down the stretch, and Ty’s proven that he can intercept the ball all year long,’’ Appel said. “Both of those interceptions were big ones.”

Barnes, on third-and-15, picked off a pass near the Douglass sideline and went untouched on a 27-yard return for a touchdown with 9:23 left in the third quarter, making it 13-0.

“I just dropped back in coverage and saw the ball coming toward me,’’ said Barnes. “So I just went after it, caught the ball, got a good block from one of my teammates, and scored.”

If that wasn’t the backbreaker for Douglass, Johnson’s interception a few minutes later was.

The Ducks marched 47 yards in seven plays to get to the Fort Hill 14 when Johnson stepped in front of Michael Owens in the end zone for the Sentinels’ second interception in a span of just three minutes.

“I was just following what the coaches told me to do. The quarterback was rolling back to me,’’ Johnson said. “I knew it was going to be a post-corner. I just did what the coaches taught me to do and went up for the ball, and got it.”

The Sentinels then put together a 13-play, 80-yard scoring drive that ate up 7:17 and ended with Barnes stutter-stepping around right end, finding a hole and dashing untouched into the end zone from seven yards out to make it 19-0 with 11:11 left in the fourth.

A nine-yard sack by Arigo and an incomplete pass on fourth-and-20 ended the Ducks next possession and set up the Sentinels final score. It took just one play, as Barnes took a handoff from Hunter Squires and charged 44 yards off right tackle for the touchdown and 25-0 lead with 8:40 to go.

“It feels good,’’ Barnes said. “It all goes to the line. The line blocks great, day-in and day-out. They really work hard to get us into the end zone.”

The Fort Hill defense did not have a shutout during the regular season. The Sentinels saved their best for last.

“I definitely think it was our best defensive game of the year,’’ said Arigo. “Our defense has done great all year. It’s awesome to go out like this. It’s surreal. I can’t put it into words right now.”

Darr, a senior who played with sore ribs in the second half after a fierce rush and hit on West, agreed.

“It’s great to win a state championship and to be 14-0. It’s a team thing,’’ he said. “We set a list of goals at the start of the season. We wanted to go undefeated, win states, and a lot of other stuff. To go 14-0 and make history, it’s great.

“But, knowing it’s your last game at Fort Hill High School, that’s depressing. But you just have to look past that. It’s been great, but it’s now over.”

Fort Hill piled up 1,453 yards of offense in the four playoff games, with 1,235 coming on the ground on 129 carries, an average of 9.5 yards per carry. They averaged 41 points per game over the 14-game season.

Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. Write to him at mmathews@times-news.com

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