CHAMPS: Fort Hill reigns supreme once more
ANNAPOLIS — On a cold, dreary, rainy day, Big Red reigned again and brought home the goods to prove it.
Blake Beal scored a pair of touchdowns, Carter Swan ran for the other one and the defense bottled up another opponent, carrying Fort Hill to a 20-8 victory over Frederick Douglass for its fifth football state championship in six years.
When Beal scored on a 22-yard bootleg with just over three minutes left, it all but sealed the Class 1A title and perfect season, the fourth during the most successful six-year run in state championship history. The Sentinels (13-0) were also unbeaten state champs in 2013, 2014, and 2016.
“I’ve never had a group that has combined themselves as a team as much as these guys have. There are no superstars," said Fort Hill coach Todd Appel. "People in the past with Fort Hill, said ‘they’re winning because of this kid, or that kid.’ Everybody tries to find an excuse why people are winning other than the real reasons, and that’s hard work, effort, execution, and what you do in the offseason.
“These kids proved this year that there were no superstars,” Appel said, and then added: “They were the best group as a team that I think we’ve had in the last six years.
“In the second half, they played good disciplined football. They played good defense, like they have all year. And the offense came through with the important drive when they needed it, to salt the game away. I’m very, very proud of this group.”
It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was a perfect ending to a unbeaten season. It was the Swan Song for 22 seniors.
One of those was Swan, the fullback who had 20 carries and a game-high 113 yards and the first touchdown, a 55-yard burst with 8:53 left in the first quarter. As a linebacker he had a team-high eight tackles, five solo. He had one tackle for loss, and it came when it was needed the most.
Clinging to a 13-8 lead with Douglass facing a fourth-and-two from the Fort Hill 28 late in the fourth quarter, Swan burst through the line and sacked Devin Harding for a 4-yard loss.
“We got in gap A, which is both of our linebackers are down in front of the center,” Swan explained. “And the center has to pick me or Colten Crabtree (to block). He picked Colten, so I was in the backfield and I did my best to tackle him.”
Harding didn’t have a chance, as Swan, untouched, blew the play up immediately.
Douglass had converted a fourth down earlier in the possession, which had begun at its 33. But after the defensive’s stand on this second one, the offense grinded out a 10-play, 68-yard, drive that ate up 5:40 and ended on Beal’s bootleg around the right end.
Beal, who ran eight times for 63 yards, followed big lead blocks by Swan and Austin Burt and his score, plus Danny King’s kick, made it 20-8 with only 3:05 to go.
“The front five did a good job of getting guys out of the way,” Beal said. “A lot of the bootleg stuff for this week was just to square your shoulders and get downhill as soon as you can. So, going into today, that’s what I was thinking about.”
The go-ahead TD in the first half capped a drive that was extended because of a roughing-the-kicker penalty on Douglass. King was wide on a 47-yard field goal, but the penalty gave Fort Hill the ball at the Douglass 15, and Beal scored two plays later on a 16-yard run, also on a bootleg right.
Swan, Hunter Jacobs and Jakobe Jackson were among the ones with key blocks to spring Beal into the end zone. It gave the Sentinels the lead for good, 13-8, with 5:17 left in the first half.
“On those plays, I just try my best to do my job, and let everybody else do their job … have faith and confidence in my teammates to get the job done. And to do my part,” Beal said.
Beal’s cadence also played a part in drawing Douglass offside six times, including one on a third-and-2 three plays before his game-clinching touchdown.
The defense, which gave up four touchdowns in four playoff games, held Douglass to 48 yards rushing on 21 carries. Harding was the main threat, and finished 13 for 23 for 193 yards and a touchdown, a 38-yarder to Mark Mason, who ran for the conversion to give the Eagles their 8-7 lead with 5:17 left in the first quarter. Malik Pettaway had seven catches for 102 yards.
“They did some crafty things on the other side of the ball,” Douglass coach J.C. Pinkney said of the Fort Hill defense. “They had some under techniques, and they ran a backer through, and we didn’t quite pick up the stunt. We were a little slow in recognizing that.
“They have big, strong kids. They have a lot of gap integrity, where everybody’s in their gaps. I thought we could get them off the ball a little bit and maybe spring through a couple of runs. But it didn’t materialize for us, so we went to our air attack.”
Douglass led in total offense, 241-218 but had two turnovers — both deep in Fort Hill territory. Braeden Askins had an interception at the 25 late in the first half and Anthony Smith picked off a pass in the end zone in the final seconds of the second.
Askins, Crabtree and Wyatt Brehm had five tackles. King punted twice for a 44-yard average, pinning the Eagles at their own three with a second-half kick.
“We told all of our backs, just cover for four seconds and we can get back there,” said Brehm, the Fort Hill sack leader with 14. “We tried our best to get as much pressure as possible, and try to get a turnover.”
The Eagles converted only 1 of 9 third downs.
“All week we worked on pass rush and, like Wyatt said, if our defensive backs could cover for 3 or 4 seconds, we were going to get back there and make sacks, key stops,“ said Crabtree, the team leader with 141 tackles, 59 solo.
Freshman Tyree Newman had a game-high 13 tackles for Douglass (8-5).