Fort Hill powers past Sherando in 49-21 rout
Defensive stops lead to quick scores, 19th win in row

CUMBERLAND — A defense on a team that averages more than 50 points a game can easily be overlooked.

Not at Fort Hill. And especially not during The Late Show at Greenway Avenue Stadium Friday night.

The offense did its part again, with Troy Banks running for 191 yards and two touchdowns and Nathaniel Graves scoring three times in a 49-21 victory over Sherando. Brayden Brown scored twice as the unbeaten Sentinels scored at least 45 points for the sixth time in eight games.

Last year, Sherando led Fort Hill 14-0 at halftime in a game Fort Hill won 23-14. This year’s game was an anticipated one. One that some may have thought might be decided late in the fourth quarter. Or maybe even later.

The Fort Hill defense would have none of it.

“Our defense is strong, and we hit hard,” said senior lineman Brayden Conley. “We get off our blocks well and get to the ball. All of us.”

They did Friday night, especially when it counted the most, on third and fourth downs. And every time they came up big, it quickly showed on the scoreboard, helping turn a tight game into a runaway.

On the Warriors’ first possession, Graves and Austin Martin stuffed Nathan Wagner for a one-yard loss on fourth-and-1 at the Fort Hill 40. Eight plays later, Graves scored on a four-yard run to cap a drive that included 17- and 12-yard runs by Banks and gave the Sentinels a 6-0 lead.

In the second quarter, Martin and Luke Hamilton took down Austin Rivers on a fake punt after a two-yard gain on fourth-and-4 near midfield. Three plays later, Brown went off tackle, juked a defender in the secondary and dashed untouched 29 yards for a touchdown that put Fort Hill on top to stay at 21-14 with 3:44 left in the half.

But the back breaker was yet to come, and it came on yet another fourth down when Conley blocked a punt in Sherando territory with just over two minutes left in the half. And, once again, three plays later, the Sentinels scored, this time on a four-yard run by Graves.

“I saw a big hole, and I took it. They didn’t block me,” Conley said. “It gave us momentum, definitely. Everyone was hyped up and motivated.”

The touchdown gave Fort Hill a 28-14 halftime lead, and although the Warriors had speedy T.J. Washington (18 carries, 178 yards) who was a threat to score at any time and had 56- and 48-yard TD runs, the game was never in doubt the rest of the way. Sherando had seven yards of offense in the third quarter when the Sentinels extended the lead to 42-14.

“Stopping the fake punt and stopping them on fourth down ... they were big plays,’’ said Fort Hill coach Todd Appel, who got his 100th career coaching win in just his 112th game. You want to get our defense off the field so the offense can get to work, and (defensive coordinator) John McKenney made the right call on the fourth-and-one. That was really big.

“Special teams can be a hidden part of the game. It’s hidden yardage, in that the yardage doesn’t show up in the statistics. It’s extremely important, and we stress it in practice every day,’’ Appel continued, referring to Conley’s blocked punt and a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown by Brown in the third quarter.

The Sentinels got their defense off the field often, as Sherando was just 1 for 10 for the game on third-down conversions, and 1 for 3 on fourth downs tries. They managed 15 net yards on the 10 third downs. Among those 10 plays were a 15-yard sack by Noah Steckman, a sack by Braeden Smith and an interception by Graves.

The offense piled up 20 first downs and 389 yards, with 372 coming on the ground. Banks, who had 108 yards in the first quarter, finished with 191 yards on 23 carries.

“The offensive line was the key to our success,’’ Banks said of center Noah Bunner, guards Conley and Holden Sibley, and tackles Richard Hess and Gabriel Logsdon. “The whole offensive line. Without them, none of this would be able to get done. They worked their butts off all week in practice, and I think it showed.”

Brown ran 11 times for 67 yards and Graves had 10 carries and 61 yards.

Fort Hill hosts Mountain Ridge on Friday night.