ANNAPOLIS — All season long, Fort Hill was confident the only thing that could defeat it was itself. On Saturday, the Sentinels proved that to be true, as they reeled off 35 unanswered points after trailing 19-10 to take down Mountain Ridge, 51-31, in the Class 1A state championship game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The win is Fort Hill’s sixth state crown in Class 1A and its first since 2018.
“‘What beats us?’” Fort Hill head coach Zack Alkire asked his players during the postgame press conference.
“’Ourselves,’” responded the Fort Hill players in unison.
“That’s been the message all year long,” Alkire continued. “We felt that the only thing that could beat us this year was ourselves. There was a moment there in the first half where we were beating ourselves. Mountain Ridge obviously had a part in that too, but we were certainly helping them along.”
Tanner Wertz led the Sentinels’ ground attack with 10 carries for 163 yards and two scores, while Blake White added 12 carries for 133 yards and three TDs. Fort Hill outgained the Miners, 506-426, and ran for 451 yards.
“It’s a great feeling. But, let’s be honest. It’s my first full season, but these guys did all the hard work,” Alkire said, referring to his players. “The foundation was laid with a bunch of coaches before me. More recently, Mike Calhoun, Barry Lattimer, Todd Appel. Those guys laid the foundation. We’re just trying to continue that tradition. These guys, they did all the hard work.”
“Obviously disappointed,” said Mountain Ridge head coach Ryan Patterson. “I thought our defense would show up better than it did. It was a loss again but a role reversal in that our defense really started strong when we played in the regular season and the offense let us down. This time, it was vice-versa. We gave up a score in less than a minute right out of the gate. It seemed like we could never get our feet under us defensively.”
After Mountain Ridge quarterback Bryce Snyder scored on a one-yard run at 10:32 in the second quarter to put the Miners up by nine, Fort Hill responded with a prompt seven-play, 62-yard drive that was capped with a 17-yard run by White.
Barely a minute ran off the clock by the time the Fort Hill got the ball back, as the Sentinels had another 17-yard score from the arm of Bryce Schadt to the hands of Breven Stubbs. A two-point pass from Schadt to Jace May gave Fort Hill the lead for good at 25-19.
The Miners’ ensuing drive was again shortlived, taking up just 57 seconds before punting after a three-and-out.
On the first play from scrimmage, Wertz took a handoff up the right side and darted 60 yards untouched into the end zone for a 12-point edge, 31-19, with 3:18 to go before the break.
It looked as though the Miners would punt again on their next drive, but Snyder hit Uma Pua’auli for a 10-yard gain on third-and-8 to move the sticks. After an 18-yard catch by Nathaniel Washington, holding and roughing the passer penalties on Fort Hill moved the ball to the Sentinel 24.
After an 18-yard pass from Snyder to Pua’auli to the 6-yard-line, Pua’auli took an end-around and looked for Snyder to throw to in the end zone. Pua’auli was able to break free from a few would-be tacklers and found Snyder for a score, but the Miners were flagged for an illegal man downfield, negating the touchdown.
“Great performance by the offense,” said Patterson. “We were at the goal line ready to score before halftime. I felt like if we could’ve got that one in, I don’t know if it completely flips momentum, but boy it sure would’ve looked good and felt good.
“We looked at the film already and our guy, I’m not 100% he’s downfield. We had points taken off the board. Obviously, the referee saw something. Our quick look at it, we weren’t any further than 2-3/4 yards downfield. Our kids were just standing there. There’s an ethics to the rule also, I think. If guys were downfield blocking or something like that, I think it’s an easy call. But I’m still confused on that call. But, obviously that’s not the only reason we lost here.”
Instead, the Miners had to retry from the 11, with Tavin Willis breaking up a pass to send the Sentinels into the break with a 31-19 lead.
Any chance of a Mountain Ridge comeback was more or less thwarted by the time the Miners got their third second-half possession, with Fort Hill forcing a three-and-out coming out of halftime and then forcing and recovering a fumble on the next drive.
After forcing the first punt of the second half, the Sentinels had the ball for less than two minutes as Wertz scampered 56 yards on fourth-and-2 for a touchdown. White scored on a 27-yard run following the fumble recovery by TJ Lee to put the score at 45-19.
White’s final touchdown came on a 43-yard run early in the fourth quarter to put the game to bed.
Mountain Ridge controlled the early going, even after Stubbs scored on a 24-yard run on the third play of the game.
The Miners dug into the playbook with a trick play on the first play from scrimmage, with Pua’auli taking the end-around and finding Will Patterson wide open for a 52-yard gain.
Jaden Lee ran for 19 yards and, two plays later, Snyder found Pua’auli for a seven-yard TD pass and 7-7 tie following Snyder’s point-after try.
The Sentinels had down-and-goal on the next drive, but a false start penalty set them back. Jacob Tichnell made it 10-7 on a 25-yard field goal at 6:32 in the first quarter.
Mountain Ridge responded with a 10-play, 80-yard drive, including a fourth-and-2 conversion by Snyder the play before he rushed into the end zone from 15 yards out.
The Miners forced a three-and-out and started out at the Fort Hill 19 after a 52-yard punt return by Washington.
Five plays later, Snyder gave the Miners a 19-10 lead at 10:32 in the second quarter with a one-yard plunge.
Snyder capped off his high school career with touchdown passes of two and 12 yards to Washington, the latter of which came with three seconds remaining. Snyder went 17 of 32 for 202 yards and three touchdowns with 14 carries for 99 yards and two scores.
“Overall, I thought our offense did great,” Patterson said. “I thought Bryce had one of his best performances of the season. We ran the ball, kept them off-balance. We started really strong with Jaden, they made some adjustments then to slow them down.”
Fort Hill’s state crown caps off an undefeated season at 12-0. Two of those wins along the way were over a dynamic Mountain Ridge team, who was No. 2 in Class 1A.
“It’s extremely tough,” Alkire said of what it’s like to beat Mountain Ridge twice. “They have a great coaching staff. They’ve really come a long way since Coach Patterson has taken over. They brought some guys onto their staff. They work all year long, just like we do. … We knew that they were going to come out with a great game plan. What are they going to do differently that they didn’t do the first time? Literally all week long in practice, we’re on our headsets telling Coach Shook, he does our scout team offense, hey do this and do that, let’s kind of switch this around. We’re basically drawing around in the dirt on what if we were them, what would we do to try to hurt us? These guys responded pretty flawlessly in practice. Maybe not as flawlessly out there tonight, but when it mattered they got the job done.”
The win gives Fort Hill its eighth overall state championship in school history, tying crosstown rival Allegany.
“Allegany had eight, now we have eight,” said Alkire. “It always was, whenever I was growing up, ‘You guys can win Homecoming, we’ll win the state championships.’ So now we have eight. It’s tied with Allegany … we get the tiebreaker because we win Homecoming all the time. But it’s also great that the city has 16 championships. Kudos to them and what they’ve done in their history to be able to help us out with that too.”
The Sentinels end the season not only as champions, but a group of student-athletes changed forever after the death of Saiquan Jenkins two days before the Homecoming game.
“Extremely proud,” said Alkire. “Obviously, it’s great to win a state championship. That’s the goal. But a lot of times it’s more than just football stuff. These guys have gone through so much this year, whether it was COVID quarantines, suspensions, the death of Quan. These guys responded perfectly every step of the way. I couldn’t be prouder of them and I hope they’re proud of themselves.”