Big plays lead Fort Hill past Mountain Ridge, 31-6
Oct 31, 2020
CUMBERLAND — When the home run ball wasn’t a sustainable strategy to kill off the game, Fort Hill first-year head coach Zack Alkire made some halftime adjustments to turn the tide in his favor and get some more consistency on both sides of the ball.
It paid dividends for Alkire and the Sentinels, as they outgained Mountain Ridge, 403-293, en route to a 31-6 victory over the Miners on Saturday afternoon at Greenway Avenue Stadium.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Alkire said of his first win. “It was a pretty surreal moment coming down here, so I just kind of took it all in.”
2019 co-Offensive Player of the Year Breven Stubbs led the Fort Hill offense, rushing nine times for 151 yards and two touchdowns while completing 1 of 2 passes for 44 yards and a score.
The first half for the Sentinels was traditional Fort Hill ground-and-pound offense, with a pair of long touchdowns to show for it. But the second half was an unfamiliar look, with Stubbs lined up to receive most of the snaps in the Wildcat.
“I think the adjustment was huge,” said Alkire. “That’s something that we’ve been putting in for a while. We knew that they weren’t going to be prepared for that. That’s something that we’ve never really done at Fort Hill.
“So we stuck with traditional Fort Hill stuff in the first half, but in practice that’s (Stubbs in the Wildcat) what’s been working the best. So we waited until halftime to use it and … they had to adjust on the fly to that.”
The Mountain Ridge defense came ready to play, as Fort Hill received the opening kickoff and went practically nowhere on its first drive, with a sack on third-and-9 wiping out a one-yard run by Paxton Wertz on the second play from scrimmage and forcing a punt, with the Miners taking over at the Fort Hill 47.
Fifth-year head coach Ryan Patterson said in the season preview that, while Mountain Ridge wouldn’t completely abandon the run this season, it would be relying on a heavy Air Raid attack, and that was evident from the get-go. Following an incomplete pass and a run for no gain, junior quarterback Bryce Snyder hit Jaden Lee on a 47-yard touchdown pass after Lee went in motion from left to right and caught a pass in the seam before beating a defender just before the goal line. Mountain Ridge’s two-point pass failed, giving the Miners a 6-0 lead with nine minutes to play in the opening period.
“Up and down, to be honest with you,” Patterson said of his team’s effort. “I don’t know if I like how we finished. Started out great, of course. We knew they were going to hit big plays — they’re too talented not to. And when we play them again, they’re going to hit big plays. We talked about it all week, being able to flip the tide, and turn the page and not look back to what just happened and move forward.
“But we saw a lot of good things today. We have a good football team. We’re talented. We need to get tougher up front and we need to be able to get more consistent.”
It didn’t take the Sentinels long to respond, however — 12 seconds to be exact. Following the kickoff going into the end zone for a touchback, Breven Stubbs took a straight handoff off right tackle and up an open lane on the right side, darting past the safety and reaching the end zone for an 80-yard score. Rob Bower converted the first of his four point-after tries to put the Sentinels in front for good, 7-6.
The Miners started deep in their own territory at the 16-yard-line on their next drive, but a 10-yard screen pass to Jeff McKenzie and a one-yard run by Lee converted on fourth-and-1. Mountain Ridge punted four plays later, and Fort Hill took full advantage with another home run.
On the third play from scrimmage on third-and-3, Tavin Willis snuck out of the backfield and hauled in a pass for an initial short gain, but a great block on the edge gave him running room up the right side as the sophomore tailback was able to use his speed to break away and score on a 63-yard catch-and-run from Allen Stevenson — it was Stevenson’s lone pass of the game. Bower’s PAT put the Sentinels ahead 14-6, a score that would hold until the second half.
“That’s the thing,” said Alkire, “we can have a really poor day, and in the first half, it was a poor beginning. We just had two big-hitters that turned the tide in our direction and gave our defense a little more confidence that we knew we were going to score some points. Those big home run plays are huge for us.”
“I wish it was one of those games we won and still coach them up for next week because we missed a lot of stuff, but unfortunately it didn’t happen that way,” said Patterson. “The non-score right before halftime killed us.”
The non-score came on a nearly seven-minute drive during the second period that started at the Mountain Ridge 7 following a 44-yard punt. The Miners converted on three third downs — a 30-yard jump ball to Nathaniel Washington, a 29-yard gain on a slant pattern from Amare Kennedy and a QB sneak from Snyder on third-and-1. Following Snyder’s conversion, he was sacked for an 11-yard loss, but he quickly recovered as he hit Lee on the very next play for a 21-yard gain to set up first-and-goal from the five. McKenzie gained 3 yards on first down before Snyder gained another yard on a keeper and Jay Miller was stuffed on a run from the one. Snyder ran a triple option on fourth down but it was stopped for no gain to turn the ball over on downs following a 15-play drive.
At the break, despite a 14-6 lead, outside of the two long touchdowns, the Sentinels had just 36 yards of offense on 16 plays. On the other side, Snyder was 9 of 14 for 172 yards and completed his last six passes of the half covering 119 yards.
The second half was an entirely different story as Fort Hill forced three turnovers and reeled off 214 yards on 22 plays while limiting Snyder to 61 yards on 7 of 17. After rushing for 10 yards on 21 attempts in the first half, the Miners finished with 15 rushing yards on 36 attempts while losing 43 yards on seven sacks.
The Miners went three-and-out to open the second half and Fort Hill took advantage, despite an illegal block in the back penalty wiping out a 41-yard touchdown by Willis on the first play from scrimmage. After a 3-yard run by Stubbs on first-and-16, Stubbs dropped back and found Korey Stafford deep in behind the secondary up the right sideline for a 44-yard touchdown, giving Fort Hill a 21-6 lead at 10:18.
Mountain Ridge was marching down the field on the ensuing drive thanks to 14- and 11-yard catches from Lee for first downs. But two plays after Lee’s 11-yard snag, the Sentinels forced a fumble with Paxton Wertz recovering. Three plays later, Stubbs called his own number from the Mountain Ridge 47, initially running up the middle before cutting out to the left, finding a seam and darting to the end zone. Bower’s PAT made it 28-6 at 7:27.
After the teams twice traded punts, the Miners’ first drive in the fourth was stalled when Stafford picked off a pass at the goal line and returned to the Fort Hill 13. Junior fullback Blake White scampered 77 yards on the first play from scrimmage, but the Sentinels settled for a 24-yard Bower field goal to put the score at its final. Stafford intercepted another pass before the final horn.
After the Mountain Ridge defense gave them fits in the first half, the Sentinels recovered to average 8.2 yards per carry with 36 attempts for 296 yards in addition to the 107 passing yards Stevenson and Stubbs combined for.
“They got better,” Alkire said of his offensive line. “Coach Lewis talked to them at halftime and built their confidence up a little bit. They opened up holes in the second half.”
Snyder finished 16 of 31 for 233 yards.
“He hit a lot of good stuff,” Patterson said of Snyder. “Right off the bat we hit the deep one and had them on their heels a little, no doubt about it. Hit a lot of reads, missed some reads.”
Lee tallied 106 yards on seven catches. Kennedy hauled in a pair of passes for 64 yards and Washington had five receptions for 60 yards.
“We need to work on that. We need to get better in pass coverage,” said Alkire. “We wanted to stay in Three as much as we could today to save on the legs. When we went One, it was a better coverage for us. We did a better job stopping those slants across the middle in One and it seemed like every time we picked Three, they beat us on the slants. So hopefully with better conditioning throughout the season, when we see them again, we’ll be better prepared for that.”
The Miners and Sentinels don’t meet again until Dec. 11 at Mountain Ridge.
At the moment, Mountain Ridge (0-1) is scheduled to be off next week, though an agreement may be made with a Washington County school to play next week. The Miners’ next game is scheduled for Nov. 13 at home against Southern.
“We just talked about when the going gets tough,” said Patterson. “When the game started and it was going well and everyone is excited. But then when the game is getting tough, we saw some people starting to duck away a little. So I’m going to challenge our mentality and see how tough we want to be and see how far we can take this. Because we’d like to make a run at them the second time we play them.”
The Sentinels (1-0), meanwhile, face the task of slowing down Trevan Powell, who racked up 212 yards in Allegany’s 21-14 win over Northern on Friday night.
“We’ll definitely get down and prepare for it,” Alkire said. “We’ll have meetings amongst the coaches and have a gameplan for Friday. The root of it is they’re not running their traditional stuff either. They came out last year at Homecoming in the Pistol formation with Powell and they did a really good job with it. They’re returning most of their players from last year too.
“We’re going to have to do a much better job where Mountain Ridge was predominantly passing, they’re (Allegany) going to be predominantly run with Powell, so we need to do a better job of stopping him. He’s a hard runner, so the focus is going to be on stopping him.”
Kickoff on Friday evening at Greenway is set for 6 p.m., with Fort Hill listed as the home team.