Almost instantly, another classic

by Mike Mathews

Baseball isn’t the only game of inches.

Friday night proved it, exhilaratingly so for Fort Hill. Painfully so for Allegany. Go ahead. Raise your right hand above your head if youknew the Homecoming rematch would be the game that was played at Greenway Avenue Stadium.

As we continue to read this piece with both of our hands holding the newspaper about waist high, there are many things to take from Fort Hill’s 21-20 win. One is how difficult it is to dethrone a champion. The Sentinels showed the heart of a champion, wobbly at times but refusing to go down and making the biggest play with their backs against the wall. Or, goal line.

“We overcame a lot of stuff,” said Fort Hill coach Todd Appel. “We couldn’t get off the field on fourth down (Allegany converted 3 of 4 fourth downs in the second half) and we lost a couple of fumbles early, but we kept on playing and believing. That’s our motto this year: believe. And it really held true tonight.”

The win was the 50th state tournament victory for the program and extended Fort Hill’s record for most consecutive playoff wins to 18. It was also the Sentinels’ 12th win in a row over Allegany. Three of the dirty dozen, as the streak may now be called in the blue section of town, have come by 21-20 scores.

On Friday, the teams were separated by one point on the scoreboard, three yards in total offense and 20 seconds in time of possession.

Another vivid memory from Friday is the determination, grit, might and short memory of Allegany. Less than two weeks after trailing to the same team 42-7 midway through the third quarter in a game that ended up 56-21, the Campers, well-prepared and ready from the get-go, played perhaps their best all-around game. Certainly, they played well enough to win.

The biggest difference was on defense. After allowing Fort Hill 490 rushing yards and 11.1 per carry at Homecoming, the Campers gave up 195 and 4.7 per rush in the rematch.

They were outgained in total offense at Homecoming 490-239, and led in total offense in the rematch 273270. They had two turnovers at Homecoming, had none in the rematch, and forced two by Fort Hill. They had 11 penalties at Homecoming, and six in the rematch.

“Our kids came out disciplined, were absolutely physical,” said Allegany coach Bryan Hansel. “We came out with a 6-2 defense and our kids committed to it. They hit some passes on us early, and a little later in the game. It was a little coverage mismatch.

“But these kids executed, and moving Karson (Robinette) to linebacker helped. We held them to 21 points, and except for FCA, that’s the lowest they’ve scored this season. They average 50. These seniors fought, man. They dug and fought and clawed. They never quit. I’m so proud of the effort and our game plan. These kids played a game they deserved to win.”

In addition to converting 3 of 4 fourth downs, the Campers converted on third-and-11 and third-and-10 during their second-half touchdown drives. Both were passes to Elisha Llewellyn, one thrown by Robinette and the other by Cameron Bratton. Robinette, who went over the 2,000-yard rushing mark in the third quarter, finished with 28 carries and 163 yards. In two games against the Sentinels, he ran 47 times for 331 yards.

Bratton, sidelined by a badly sprained ankle at Homecoming, didn’t play last week against Boonsboro. He did Friday evening, and handled the position well. There was never a doubt he wouldn’t play. Hansel said the decision was made early in the week.

“Cameron was about 70 percent. He’s a senior. When I asked him if he was sure he could play, he told me, ‘You can’t keep me from this game.’” For a while, it seemed as if transportation might keep Allegany from the game. It didn’t. The Campers arrived fashionably late, by design, charging onto the field just before game time and after Fort Hill had marched down its 52 steps into the stadium.

The game was on, and it hadn’t even started yet.

When it did start, the 48 minutes seemed to fly by quicker than the second half of a rout with a running clock. It was a shame it had to end. It was a shame that someone had to lose. Too bad there can’t be an Allegany- Fort Hill III.

“They were ready. At Homecoming, they said they weren’t ready,” said Fort Hill’s Brayden Poling, who caught three passes, including two in the first half for touchdowns from Logan Johnson. “They had a good game plan. We had to overcome it.” The catch by Poling that didn’t go for a TD was nearly as big as the ones that did, a 27-yard pass along the sideline from Johnson, who was 3 for 4 for 75 yards and is 11 for 15 for 231 yards and four touchdowns in the postseason.

The pass set up a tie-breaking 18-yard touchdown run by Troy Banks, who had 19 carries for 126 yards in the game, and 40 rushes and 288 yards in the two games against Allegany.

“We had to throw the passes to loosen them up,” Appel said of Allegany’s defense.

“They were in like a 6-3 with two corners playing coverage. We had to throw the ball some. Gavin (Palumbo) did a great job calling plays when we needed them, especially the big pass play to Brayden down the sideline.”

“The passes were huge, especially the third-down play,” Poling said. “That was third-and-10 and we got 20 yards out of it. Logan did a good job finding me when I was open. It was all him, really.”

That pass came three plays after a fourth-down facemask penalty called on Robinette, who had charged through the line and stopped Banks behind the line of scrimmage. Banks’ head jerked when the hit was made. It appeared to be a facemask. There were disagreements by some on the sideline and among one side’s fans.

“I thought I saw (the) shoulder pad (grabbed),” Hansel said. “They told me the guy in the box saw facemask, the guy on the side saw facemask and one of the guys on the sticks said they both saw facemask. I didn’t see it. When four people tell you, you have to go with it. That’s OK.”

The Sentinels stopped Allegany on fourth-and-4 at the Fort Hill 32 early in the fourth, but weren’t able to take advantage, and after punting for the first time in nearly three games, the Campers began their final drive at their own 37.

That’s the one that brought it to 21-20, with Llewellyn running seven yards on fourthand- 2 to keep the drive going early, and grabbing a Bratton pass for 22 yards on thirdand- 10 later. He scored on a 13-yard run, and the decision to go for two and the lead, and perhaps win, came next.

The Campers went for two with extra point kicks next to automatic all season, and despite having only one timeout left with 3:53 to go if they failed.

And they should have went for two. Let the second guessing begin. Or, by now no doubt, continue.

They had the momentum, had averaged 5 yards per carry for the game against a team they had lost to by five touchdowns 13 days ago. Who’s to say they’d have a better chance to win in the dwindling minutes of the fourth quarter, or in an overtime? Who’s to say therewould have even been an overtime?

“You say you want to stop a dynasty, stop the streak, stop all of this, you do that by taking risk,” Hansel said afterward. “You do that by taking chances. I thought we took a great shot.”

So, go for it they did. But Poling and Kaleb Harden formed a wall and combined for the biggest tackle of the season near the oneyard line, stopping Llewellyn short.

“It was inches ... just a foot and I would have had it,” said Llewellyn, who had 63 of his 73 yards rushing and 35 yards receiving in the second half. “That’s just one play in the game. The blocking scheme didn’t line up right. That’s just football, I guess.

“Our team really wanted it this time. We came out ready to play. We knew we could do it. We just messed up, lined up wrong in our defensive scheme the first time,” he said of Homecoming. “We really gave it our all this time and just fell a little short.”

Just a few inches short.

Appel knows that feeling.

“We’ve been on the other end of six inches with Tavon Austin on the toss sweep getting over the goal line,” he said of the 2008 state championship game, which Dunbar won 20-19 over Fort Hill. Austin went on to West Virginia University and is now a wide receiver with the Los Angles Rams.

“Sometimes you’re on the right side, and sometimes you’re on the wrong side.”