Published: November 09, 2008 01:17 am

Fort Hill 26, Allegany 22
Howser's one-yard sneak with 18 seconds to play wins instant classic for Sentinels

Steve Luse
Cumberland Times-News

CUMBERLAND — The Fort Hill Sentinels capitalized on Allegany mistakes and were able to come up with big plays at the end to defeat the Campers, 26-22, in a down-to-the wire Homecoming thriller on a cloudy and breezy Saturday afternoon at Greenway Avenue Stadium.

Fort Hill, ranked No. 3 in the Cumberland Times-News poll, lifted its record to 8-1 with its seventh straight win and nailed down the top seed for the Maryland Class 1A West Region playoffs. The Sentinels will be hosting fourth-seeded Boonsboro (9-1) on Friday at 7 p.m. in the state quarterfinals at Greenway.

Second-ranked Allegany falls to 8-2 and is seeded third for the region playoffs. The Campers will be playing at second-seeded Smithsburg on Friday night in the first round against the 10-0 Leopards, who beat Boonsboro, 20-13, in a battle of unbeaten teams Friday night.

Offensive Player of the Game Eric Howser scored on a quarterback sneak on fourth down and inches to regain the lead for Fort Hill with just 18 seconds left. The senior signal-caller also scored the Sentinels second touchdown with a two-yard run and connected with Johnathan Foster on a 27-yard scoring strike. He completed 4-of-6 passes for 96 yards.

Defensive Player of the Game Jordan Helmick put Fort Hill on the board first when he scooped up the ball after a blocked punt by Dakota Welsh and raced 27 yards to the end zone. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound senior also set up the Sentinels’ third down when he returned an interception 27 yards in the third quarter.

Senior tackle Caleb Morris led the Fort Hill defense in tackles with 12 and had a quarterback sack. Welsh, Garrett Dolly, Mike Durr and Sam Walker had seven tackles each.

Allegany led in most of the statistics, including two bad ones — turnovers and penalties. Along with the blocked punt, the Campers had a pair of passes intercepted. They were penalized eight times for 55 yards and kept shooting themselves in the foot with five-yard mistakes.

The Campers controlled the ball most of the second half with their two long scoring drives and had a commanding 31:36 to 16:24 advantage in time of possession. They ran the ball 50 times for 238 yards and completed 3-of-7 passes for 68 yards to give them 306 total yards.

The Allegany defense held the Fort Hill rushing attack to just 74 yards on 27 runs and combined with the 98 passing yards to just 172 yards in total offense.

Senior Sean Collette led all rushers with 93 yards on 18 carries and had key runs in the two second half scoring drives.

Junior Dustin Wharton caught a 29-yard scoring pass from sophomore quarterback Drew O’Neal and also scored on an 10-yard run to give Allegany the lead in the fourth quarter. He rushed for 40 yards on eight attempts.

Sophomore fullback Melvin Tyson, who came on for injured J.D. Hook in the second quarter, gained 59 yards on 10 carries and scored on a one-yard run. Hook, the Campers leading rusher on the season, was carried off the field by teammates after suffering a leg injury. The senior fullback had gained 35 yards on seven attempts.

“Our guys came through at crunch time and played Fort Hill football when our defense was suspect,” said Fort Hill’s first-year coach Todd Appel. “It came down to our passing game and big plays. Their offensive line was tremendous and did what we like to do. They ran the ball down our throats. If Jordan Helmick doesn’t get that interception at the start of the second half, I don’t know if we would have won.”

After the teams exchanged punts on the game’s first three possessions, Welsh came flying through to block John Carpenter’s second punt attempt after a low snap. Helmick was in the right place at the right time and went the 27 yards for the score with 1:36 on the clock in the opening quarter. The kick by Marcus Lashley was wide.

“We worked hard in practice every day and came over the top. We played with a lot of heart,” said Helmick, a first-team All-Area player last year. “After the great block on the punt I saw the ball hopping and was able to pick it up and get the touchdown.”

Allegany then got its offense clicking and went 62 yards on 12 plays on a drive that ended with O’Neal finding a wide-open Wharton down field on the 29-yard scoring play at the 8:12 mark in the second half. Carpenter’s kick made it 7-6.

Starting at its own 20-yard line after a personal foul on a kick that was out of bounds, Fort Hill regained the lead with Howser’s 27-yard strike to Foster near the goal line. Lashley had a 15-yard run in the 10-play drive and Howser connected with Helmick on a 27-yard pass to set up the score. A pass on a fake kick by Lashley failed.

Allegany was looking to get on the board again before the break when O’Neal completed a 30-yard pass to Wharton at the Fort Hill 16-yard line with 34 seconds left. The Campers thought they had a first down on a Wharton run to the two when O’Neal spiked the ball with four seconds left, but ended up turning the ball over on downs.

Allegany got the ball to start the second half and on the third play after the intermission Helmick reached down low to pick off the O’Neal pass and raced 39 yards to the Campers’ two-yard line.

“I read the play and saw the ball,” said Helmick. “I reached down low and grabbed it and I just thought to take off running.”

Lashley was thrown for a three-yard loss by Ryan Kane on first down and gained the three yards back on the next play. Howser then kept the ball on a sneak and got his first touchdown at the 9:10 mark in the third quarter. Lashley kicked the extra point for the 19-7 lead.

Allegany responded with a 16-play, 63-yard march that took 7:15 off the clock. Tyson scored with the one-yard blast on fourth down with 1:55 left in the quarter. Carpenter kicked the extra point.

Forcing the Sentinels to punt after three runs, the Campers paraded 81 yards on 13 running plays with Wharton going in from the 10 with 5:24 left to play. Using some trickery on the conversion, O’Neal got the ball back after handing off to Collette and passed to Kane for the two points and the 22-19 lead.

Fort Hill needed to go 80 yards after Carpenter’s kick into the end zone and got a big chunk of it with the passing of Howser.

After getting a first down at the 32 on two Lashley runs for seven yards sandwiched around a face-mask penalty. Howser found a high-leaping Devin Lee on a 33-yard connection along the sidelines to the Allegany 35-yard line. Howser and Lee got together again for 13 yards between a couple of one-yard runs by Sam Walker.

A pass interference penalty moved the ball to the Allegany 11-yard line with 2:27 left and Walker then broke loose for a 10-yard run to the one. The Campers then stopped Lashley once and Howser twice to create the fourth down with inches to go. Howser finally managed to break the plane. Lashley kicked the extra point.

Foster picked off an O’Neal pass to end the game.

“I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” said Howser. “We made some great plays when we had to. I give my line the credit for getting me in for the winning touchdown. I couldn’t be happier for my teammates, myself, our coaches and our fans.”


Fort HILL quarterback Eric Howser is stopped short by Ryan Kane (44) and other members of the Allegany defense during the Sentinels’ game-winning drive. Howser, the game’s Offensive Player of the Game, scored two plays later with 18 seconds remaining. (PHOTO BY: John A. Bone)


Allegany running back Dustin Wharton crosses the goal line on a 10-yard touchdown run with 5:24 to play in the fourth quarter that gave the Campers a 22-19 lead following a two-point conversion pass from Drew O’Neal to Ryan Kane. (PHOTO BY: John A. Bone)


Sidelined Fort Hill running back Mike O’Kelly, sitting in a wheelchair due to a car accident last February, holds the Great American Rivalry Championship Trophy with his teammates after their victory over Allegany. (PHOTO BY: John A. Bone)