This I consider fact without having yet to substantiate: No one returned to the ticket booths at Greenway Avenue Stadium Friday night to demand their money back.
They got every last cent’s worth. And then some.
Just one week after Fort Hill’s dramatic 21-20 win over Allegany in the region championship game, good ol’ Greenway served as the stage for another one in the state semifinal with Lackey. Oh, if the cozy little stadium with the great pizza could only host another one this year.
And, just one week after what arguably could have been a season-saving tackle on a two-point conversion against the Campers, there was another. No arguing about it. This was the season-saving tackle. Unlike a week ago, it came on the last play of the game. It was make or break. Go big or go home. See you next week or adios.
When Braeden Askins made the initial, solid hit on Robert Middleton on that two-point try, and then was joined quickly by Brayden Poling and Co., it ended another game at Greenway that won’t be soon forgotten, a 34-33 overtime victory.
It also ended what has to be one of the better games played by a defensive player at the city stadium. Askins, with two blocked extra points and a blocked field goal, kept five points off the Lackey side of the scoreboard. A case can be made that that number was 11, as he had closed quickly to bat away a pass headed for a receiver at the goal line in the first half. He also had a second-quarter interception that led to a 42-yard field goal by Danny King.
Pretty safe to say that his three blocked kicks, in a game that had four, is a stadium record.
“We’ve been practicing different ways for me to get in and block kicks in practice,” Askins, a junior, said afterward. “This week it just seemed to work out. They tried to get a man to try to stuff me a little bit (on the corner). I guess it didn’t work.”
No guessing about it.
What does seem to work is Fort Hill finding a way to win. The Sentinels have won 37 of their last 38 games, own a 19-game postseason winning streak and are now one win from an unprecedented fifth straight Maryland state championship. They’ll play Dunbar, which beat Havre de Grace 52-27, in Saturday’s final in Annapolis.
“Braeden played great. It’s funny, I’m on him a good bit about little things all the time,” said Fort Hill coach Todd Appel. “All the positive plays he made tonight, I’m very thankful. And for how this can boost him into his future as far as an adult. I’m glad he had a big game and hope he really knows he can do a lot of things later on in life, not just in football.”
How many times have we heard that if we take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves? An awful lot of little things must have been done Friday night, becuase there were so many big plays that can get overlooked in an overtime game.
• Luke Hamilton’s fumble recovery on the fourth play of the game that led to a quick Fort Hill touchdown and lead.
• Fort Hill’s defensive stand after a lost fumble at the Sentinels 22 later in the period. Four Lackey plays, minus-2 yards
• Logan Johnson’s 25-yard pass to Brayden Poling on 3rd-and-30 in the second quarter that led to Danny King’s 42-yard field goal (which probably would’ve been good from 52).
• Jadon Hoover’s interception, his seventh of the year, at the 5-yard line after Fort Hill had muffed a punt in the final minutes of the first half.
• A tackle and forced fumble by Jayden Haines, and Braeden Smith’s recovery, on 4th-and-3 from the Lackey 42 in the third quarter.
• Lackey, appearing down and out, kick- starting its comeback with a 70-yard pass from Middleton to Jonathan Bridgett late in the third quarter.
• Jayson Wilmer’s 63-yard touchdown run in the final seconds of the third that made it a 1-point game.
• Poling sprinting behind the secondary and catching a 39-yard touchdown pass from Johnson in stride on the first play of the fourth quarter.
• Clement Muhoka’s block of a 43-yard King field goal midway through the fourth that kept the Chargers’ comeback possible.
• Lackey, with three turnovers, six points and 136 yards of offense in the first half, and one turnover, 21 points and 307 yards in the second.
• Tied 27-27, Robert Middleton’s scramble for 20 yards to the Fort Hill 10 in the final seconds. Because he gained a first down, the clock stopped for the chains to be moved, giving Lackey time to spike the ball and stop the clock with 1.9 seconds left, which set the stage for the overtime-forcing blocked field goal by Askins.
Someone wrote right here about three months ago that if you miss a little, you miss a lot on a Friday night at Greenway. That was certainly proven again, Friday evening.
One big edge Fort Hill has against most opponents is the kicking game.
Ryan Hipp, who booted the extra point in overtime, has been Mr. Consistency when it comes to extra points, and by going 4 for 4 Friday is 63 for 65 on the season.
King kicked two field goals, had a 47-yard punt, and his deep kickoffs were a factor in Lackey starting drives at its own 20 to start the game, and from the 37-, 6- 16-, 20-, 40-yard lines after Fort Hill scores, the average start being the 24.
They said it
Logan Johnson, on finding Brayden Poling for 25- and 39-yard passes. In the last two games, he’s completed five passes to Poling for 139 yards and three touchdowns:
“He’s my buddy, my best friend. He’s always catching the ball, so I trust him with it. And he gets open. So, you have to throw to an open man. That’s mainly how that goes.
“The Melbourne Catholic game was pretty intense, but this was probably the (most intense) I’ve played in. That was crazy. I couldn’t believe all the blocked kicks. I thought we were in pretty good shape. If we had gotten a few more points on the board before halftime I think we would’ve been fine.
“Football changes. Every down, something bad can happen; something good can happen.”
Tyreke Powell, on the overtime touchdown pass:
“I just ran my route, and was wide open. My quarterback threw a good ball to me, and I just had to catch it, and I caught it and scored.
“Now we just have to work hard and prepare well this week and stay focused. And do what we do best: play football.”
Troy Banks, on if he’d ever played in a game quite like Friday night’s:
“Yeah. Melbourne and last week against Allegany.
“At first, we thought we were going to (take control of the game), but they’re known as a second-half team so they came out strong in the second half and showed us what they were. We were very worried,” he said of the season being on the line with the two-point conversion. “They ran the quarterback. We figured they were going to run the same thing. They did, and we stopped it.”
Braeden Smith, on team success:
“It all has to do with our game plan, and letting people loose. One person would sacrifice, like Shakur (Trimble), Kaleb (Harden) or Colton (Wilhelm) ... they all sacrificed so that other people can make plays. All the glory goes to those guys.”
Smith had back-to-back solo tackles to end one Lackey possession in the fourth quarter, and a sack a few plays later that put the Chargers in the hole in the next.
“It’s the whole team. We know what’s at stake. We just know what we have to do to come out with a win. I’ve never played in game like this one before but I’m really glad I got to.”
The key ingredient
Appel, with a 118-13 record and .900 winning percentage in 10 seasons as head coach, was uncertain how games like the last two might help against Dunbar. He is certain how his team has gotten to this point: with contributions up and down the roster. None are too small, and none go unnoticed by his staff.
Like senior Keegan Miller switching jerseys from No. 31 to No. 57 in the final moments and lining up at guard for the Sentinels’ touchdown in overtime.
“Shakur (Trimble) had gotten banged up and Keegan went in for him. He played defense all night and tight end all night. He’s an all-around player who doesn’t get much credit. We have a lot of those on our football team who deserve a lot of credit. In a day and age when people kind of glorify individuals, I think our kids win through team effort. That’s something special.
“Going to the final for a fifth time in a row is a nice opportunity for all of us,” he added. “I’m very thankful, and I have to give credit to God for everything in my life.”