Fort Hill comeback extends streak to 32

Oct 15, 2017
Mike Burke

CUMBERLAND — Luke Hamilton started the madness and sophomore kicker Danny King put an end to it, as King cooly nailed a 24-yard field goal on the final play of the game to finalize a 44-42 Fort Hill victory over Melbourne Central Catholic, the 39th-ranked team in the state of Florida, Saturday night in front of a rollicking capacity crowd at Greenway Avenue Stadium in a game that was every bit as historic for how it was played as it was for the circumstance of a high school football team from Florida coming to play a game in Cumberland, Maryland, to begin with.

Fort Hill (7-0), the top-rated team in the Maryland 1A West Region and the No. 8-ranked team in all of the state according to the Maryland State Media Poll, extended its record area winning streak to 32 games, and did so with a ground game that relentlessly pounded away at the Hustlers defense to the tune of 444 yards, even through what seemingly were the most desperate of straits.

Fullback Troy Banks led this charge, rushing for 254 yards and four touchdowns, two in the fourth quarter, on 36 carries — 18 in each half.

"I am super impressed with our kids," said Fort Hill head coach Todd Appel. "They come to play and they never quit. When (Melbourne Central) came on to the field, they looked at our kids, and our kids stared them in the eye and they kept playing right with them.

"I can't say enough about our coaches for doing the right things every time through every circumstance. They made every adjustment, every right call and did the right thing on everything that happened to help us win this game. But I can't say enough about our kids. They believe. They believe they will win, and they believe in each other."

After a beautiful throw-and-catch 36-yard touchdown from quarterback Joaquin Collazo to Zamari Walton, then a 105-yard interception return for touchdown (yes, 105 yards) by Walton put the Hustlers, of Melbourne, Florida, seemingly in charge at 35-21 at 1:36 of the third quarter, the Sentinels took matters into their own feet by running the ball in mounting a monumental fourth-quarter comeback against a top-tier team with at least six Division I college football prospects on its roster.

Down 35-21 to start the fourth quarter, Fort Hill's next scoring drive had already begun, and it would last nine plays and cover 60 yards and use 4:10 of clock. At 9:26 of the fourth, on third-and-10 from the Melbourne 12, Sentinel quarterback Logan Johnson zipped a pass into the heart of the end zone to tight end Kaleb Harden for the touchdown. The kick was blocked, however, on the point attempt, and Fort Hill trailed, 35-27.

The Hustlers recovered the onside kick at their 43 and went to running back Laanthony Valentine, who took the ball to the Fort Hill 36 on three carries. On third and two, however, Calozzo, who passed for 321 yards on the night, went back to one of the screen passes on the flat that had tortured the Sentinels defense for much of the night.

Hamilton, Fort Hill's star all-purpose defensive lineman, though, carried a good hunch and then played it, reading the play perfectly and snagging Calozzo's pass with one hand, and then juggling the ball as he ran downfield before returning it to the Fort Hill 49.

Brayden Poling gained 18 and Tyreke Powell broke free for 27 to the Melbourne 2, from where Banks went across at 6:39, with Johnson hitting Poling for two points to tie the score at 35.

"I knew something was up in watching the quarterback's eyes," said Hamilton, "and then No. 11 (Lorenzo Hardy, five catches, 140 yards) came out in the flat and I played off of him. I came up and made the big play."

"The play Luke made was so big," Appel said. "They were hurting us with their quick screens on the flat and they are super athletic. At halftime we said we wanted to put pressure on the flat screens, but on that one, Luke flattened out and came into the passing lane.

"It wasn't pretty. It hit his shoulder pad and seemingly every other part of his uniform before he secured it in his hands, but it was the big turning point of this game."

The Fort Hill defense then picked up the pressure even more, forcing three incompletions and a dropped snap on a punt that resulted in the Sentinels taking over at the Melbourne 47 after the Powell return.

Fort Hill methodically pounded away on foot again, using six plays, a personal foul and an unsportsmanlike penalty on the Hustlers (21 penalties, 165 yards on the night) before Banks rambled into the end zone from six yards out at 3:12 of the fourth to give Fort Hill its first lead of the night.

The snap on the kick for point, however, was lost, and the Fort Hill lead was 41-35,

Back, of course, came Collazo and the Hustlers, peppering the field with quick hitters that moved the ball from their 29 to the Fort Hill four on eight plays. On the ninth play, Collazo, who finished the night with six touchdown passes, found wide open John May in the end zone for his second touchdown of the game, and kicker Vincent Colombo nailed his sixth extra point of the game to put the Hustlers back in front, 42-41, with 1:03 left in the fourth quarter.

Back came Fort Hill, and back came the Fort Hill running game with 57 seconds remaining, as Johnson picked up 10 on a quarterback draw and then 22 more around the right side to the Melbourne 33.

With 46 seconds, Banks hit the right side for 16, with a five-yard illegal participation penalty tacked on to put the ball at the 12. Banks picked up five more, and with time running short, and the enormous Fort Hill crowd screaming, "Timeout! Timeout!", Fort Hill called the timeout with 2.7 seconds left, and out trotted King for the 24-yard attempt.

"Never a doubt," Appel said of sending the field goal team out to win it as the Sentinels were marching down the field. "If we had broken one for a touchdown down there, so be it. But once we got over the 35 we were going to get to the place where Danny likes it and run out the clock.

"I told Coach Brode to call the timeout at three seconds and he got it to 2.7 seconds. As Danny kicked it through, the clock rolled off, and I'm thankful it rolled off because they are super dangerous."

"Trust my team and believe in myself, that's the main thing," King said of his thoughts during the Fort Hill drive. "I had no doubt; just faith."

And when he kicked it, did he know?

"As soon as I hit it I knew," he said, "and just started running straight back (to midfield) for the celebration ... And I teared up for my teammates."