Sometimes when it rains it pours
Every once in a while on a certain night a team can seem to do no wrong.
Those nights are rare, but it can happen in any sporting event, at any level.
It happened Friday night at Greenway Avenue Stadium. It really didn’t matter the opponent; Fort Hill’s football team was going to win.
The way Fort Hill prepares, little is left to chance. And everything was on display Friday evening, except chance.
The biggest reminder of the evening was simply this: it all starts at the line of scrimmage. Win it, and most likely you win the game. Dominate it, and the fourth-quarter scoreboard may look like it did at Greenway. Fifty-six to nothing.
“It was absolutely the best performance of the year, on both sides of the ball,” said Fort Hill’s Todd Appel, who with the win over Mountain Ridge has a 126-14 record at his alma mater. That’s a winning percentage of exactly .900 over 11 years.
The starting offensive line Friday was center Hunter Jacobs, guards Austin Burt and Jakobe Jackson, tackles Trey Bishop and Liam Moran and tight end Wyatt Brehm. The starters on the defensive front were Brehm, Isaiah Plummer, Bryan Uhl, Shakur Trimble, Jayden Haines and Tyreke Powell, with Carter Swan and Colten Crabtree the linebackers.
From the get-go, the Sentinels looked as if they were on a mission. If they were, it was accomplished.
“I could see the look in their eye before the game,” said Appel. “I don’t know their motives behind that. They knew it was local competition ... it’s not somebody from down state, where if you lose, maybe two or three years down the road you might forget about that.
“That might have been part of the motivation factor, and the kids wanted to show the Fort Hill pride and tradition. We talked about that extensively all week. I guess they were defending the fort tonight.”
Swan scored three times, Braeden Askins scored twice and Powell, Blake Beal and Anthony Smith also scored. Two punt returns for touchdowns by Smith were brought back because of penalties, but the Sentinels scored after each.
Askins threw a touchdown pass to Smith, scored on an interception return, and blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone.
“First time I’ve thrown a pass,” said Askins, who tossed a spiral 40 yards in the rain to Smith, who grabbed it inside the five and fought off a defender to get into the end zone. “I’ve done it in practice, but that was the first time in a game.
“That’s what I try to do ... execute the plays we work on in practice. We knew it was going to be a good atmosphere tonight. We were just trying to execute and play Fort Hill football.”
The blocked punt should’ve come as no surprise from Askins. Remember a certain game against Lackey last year? He blocked three kicks — two extra points and a field goal — and also made the game-saving tackle on a two-point try by Lackey in a 34-33 overtime win in the state semifinal
Friday night’s defense held Mountain Ridge to only 16 rushing yards, 39 total yards and one first down.
“Defense is the key most of the time,” Askins said. “Definitely. We were just trying to shut them out on defense, and let the offense do its thing.”
Fort Hill’s defense had given up only 62 points in its seven games prior to Friday’s shutout.
“Defensively, it was a whole team effort. That defensive line is super quick and super athletic,” said Appel. “They get after it and they like to play football. I think it was the best performance of the year, up front, on both sides of the ball.
“Our kids executed great, John McKenney did a great job, Jeff Brode did a great job on the sideline, and Gavin Palumbo did a great job making sure we were doing things right,” he said of the assistant coaches.
A frightful Friday
It was a cold, damp night, which no doubt played a role in the stadium being much less than full despite featuring two local teams that had a combined record of 13-2.
It’s always colder and wetter for the team that comes up on the short end, and one of the tougher jobs is interviewing the coach of that team afterward. If you’ve been involved in sports long enough, you or your team likely have been in that position at least once and can empathize.
Mountain Ridge coach Ryan Patterson is a straight-forward, no-excuses kind of guy. Win, lose or draw, he’s available and candid afterward.
“They whipped us up front every play,” he said. “Offensively, they shoved our linemen back into our linebackers and defensively they were on us before we could even get the snap.”
There just weren’t any holes and not much room at all for the Mountain Ridge offense. A rushing attack that averaged 7.7 yards per carry over the first eight games ended up with 16 yards in 18 tries. Sefa Pua’auli, who ran for 370 yards against Spring Mills and was averaging 214 per game, had three.
“They were coming from all angles and squeezing the ends off the edge when we tried to get outside. We just couldn’t get there,” Patterson said. “There were a couple of plays that we could’ve hit earlier ... a halfback pass and then a post that we didn’t get to. But I think we only had 15 plays in the first half offensively.”
Someone said not too long ago that numbers don’t lie but they sure add up. And again, that was the case. In the first half, Fort Hill led in offensive plays 39-17, first downs, 17-0, and total offense, 342-17. For the night, the Sentinels ran the ball 44 times; 43 went for positive yardage.
So what does it mean for Mountain Ridge?
It means the Miners still have a ways to go to get to where they want to be. But it was only one game. A stinger, for sure, but there’s no time dwelling on it with Keyser up next.
A win in the final home game Friday would leave Mountain Ridge with seven wins over the final eight games and a 7-3 season, one that included plenty of improvement, promise and exciting Friday nights.
“We learned where we’d like to be, and we learned where we are,” Patterson said. “We want to finish the season strong. We need to mentally get better prepared. So, back to the drawing board. That’s all we can do.”