FH fullback Smith rumbles for 174 yards, 3 TDs in 33-6 win over Northern

Chris Appel

CUMBERLAND — Raen Smith and the Sentinels poured it on Northern in the opening round of the Maryland 1A West Playoffs with the Fort Hill fullback gaining almost half of his team’s offense during a 33-6 win that sets up a rematch with archrival Allegany Friday evening.

Fort Hill (9-1) will host the Campers, who escaped from Boonsboro with a 6-3 overtime win, at Greenway Friday at 7 p.m. with the West Region championship at stake. The Sentinels beat the Campers 17-7 in last weekend’s annual Homecoming game.

For the second time in as many years, Fort Hill opened the playoffs with the Huskies, and for Northern, things couldn’t have opened much worse Friday. After getting a 22-yard run from Brady Bittinger on the first play from scrimmage, the Huskies lost the quarterback exchange and coughed up the ball at midfield. The Sentinels went to Smith two times for three yards each before Brayden Brown found a hole on a wingback counter, got past the second level and was gone for a 43-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Fort Hill lead with 10:03 left in the first.

Brown would get only six carries, but got 70 yards on his limited carries.

The story, though, was Smith and the offensive line. The junior fullback had 15 carries for 117 yards in the first half and finished with 21 carries for 174 yards in both halves for 42.8 percent of Fort Hill’s 407 yards. The Sentinels fed the ball to Smith seven times on a 14-play, 96-yard scoring drive in the second quarter alone. He was responsible for 52 yards on that drive with help from a 20-yard run.

“A lot of credit for Raen’s success goes to the offensive line,” said Fort Hill head coach Todd Appel. “They did a great job tonight. The coaches’ scouting had us knowing where Northern likes to line up, and we made the right line calls, but Raen found the openings. Our mantra against Northern was to get downhill. We knew you can’t try to run across the field because of how well Northern gets up field and takes the edge away from teams. We thought that Raen would be successful, and Gavin (Palumbo) did a good job of calling all of the right plays.”

Smith’s first touchdown came with 4:39 left in the first quarter and gave the Sentinels a 14-0 lead.

One aspect that the Huskies showed some success at was taking away Fort Hill’s big-play ability and forcing the Sentinels to go on longer drives than they normally had to. Northern did allow the big touchdown run to Brown in the first half and allowed a passing touchdown of over 50 yards in the third quarter, but were also in the backfield more often than most of Fort Hill’s opponents.

“In the end their size got to us,” said Phil Carr, Northern’s head coach. “Their fullback is as big as anybody we got on the team, and their depth allowed them to just keep coming at us. We fought, and that is what we expect out of our kids.

“I told the entire team, though, that they should be proud of the season we had and that we belonged in the playoffs. You only get four teams from each region, and we play in the toughest region in the state, so there is no doubt that if you make the playoffs in the West you’ve had a good season. Especially when there are regions with other teams at 3-7 and in the postseason.”

The Huskies had a much harder time getting the offense going than they did slowing the Sentinels down, but they got the ball moving in the fourth quarter and got a 63-yard run from Aaron Rodeheaver with 1:11 left in the fourth.

“You know you are getting a hard-hitting, aggressive team when you play Northern,” said Appel. “They swarm to the ball on defense, and Nate Durst and Rodeheaver are relentless running the ball. They are going to give you everything they got.

“Beginning with Sherando, Mountain Ridge, Allegany and now Northern, we have been playing some very tough and hard-nosed football teams. I like the way we’ve responded, though, and playing those teams does prepare you when you advance deeper into the playoffs.”

Fort Hill got two touchdowns in the third quarter on a two-yard run from Smith and a 53-yard pass from Nathaniel Graves to Brayden Poling. Poling had the only two catches for the Sentinels, for a total of 78 yards. Combined with his rushing yardage, Poling finished with 101 yards.

The rematch with Allegany doesn’t change the way Appel and the Fort Hill coaches prepare for the upcoming week, he just doesn’t agree that it should happen so soon.

“I’m sure (Allegany coach) Tom (Preaskorn) feels the exact same way, but I just don’t see why, when Allegany and Fort Hill are usually some of the better teams in 1A, we wouldn’t play later in the playoffs. The way it is now, one of the better programs has to be eliminated in the second round.”