Fort Hill scores 36 unanswered to beat Edmondson, 43-14, and advance to title game
Nov 27, 2021
CUMBERLAND, Md. — Edmondson-Westside threw some early punches, but Fort Hill was up for the fight at Greenway Avenue Stadium on Friday night.
After falling behind 14-7, the Sentinels rattled off 36 consecutive points behind the performances of Tanner Wertz and Bryce Schadt, who combined for five touchdowns.
And No. 1 Fort Hill (11-0) defeated No. 4 Edmondson (7-5), 43-14, to advance to the 1A state championship game against No. 2 Mountain Ridge (11-1) at Navy-Marine Corps next Saturday.
“We adjusted to the speed, that’s something we can’t really mimic too much in practice,” Fort Hill head coach Zack Alkire said. “I don’t want to say it took them by surprise, but it was something that we had to adjust to.
“Coaches-wise, it was just a matter of mixing up the defenses better.”
The Sentinels’ triumph, their 15th in the state semifinals, wasn’t all good. Star fullback and leading rusher Blake White exited the game with a shoulder injury sustained making a tackle early in the second half, and he couldn’t finish the contest. His status is unknown.
Enter Shane Welsh, who toted it nine times for 33 yards in the second half to help Fort Hill extend its lead.
“That’s how this team is,” Alkire said. “We’re extremely deep. When one guy goes down, another guy steps up.”
Speaking of guys stepping up, Wertz took the torch Friday as the Sentinels’ bell cow with 121 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. Last week, it was all White and Tavin Willis, who both went over the 100-yard mark in a win over Joppatowne.
This week, it was all Wertz. The speedy back’s most impressive scamper started Fort Hill’s 36-point run. After a long return by White, Wertz found a crease to the right side, made a couple of Edmondson players miss and cut to the inside.
After dodging another would-be tackler, the junior powered into the end zone through a host of Red Storm defenders to even the tally.
From that point on, it was all Sentinels, who led 28-14 at halftime and outscored the Red Storm 15-0 in the second half.
“He ran the ball extremely hard that first touchdown,” Alkire said of Wertz. “You would have thought that he weighed 6-2, 225. He did everything he could to get in the end zone there.
“He’s been that guy, he’s quiet, he doesn’t really talk too much. He kind of hangs in the back. But when he gets his opportunity, he does great with it.”
Schadt had a poised performance under center. He started the contest with a bang, completing a 49-yard bomb to Breven Stubbs for a score, and he put the sleeper hold on the Red Storm with a pair of quarterback sneaks for scores in the second and third quarters.
Wertz put the exclamation point on the win with a three-yard touchdown with 5:15 left.
After a back-and-forth start, Fort Hill eventually wore down the big Edmondson line. With nearly 700 pounds between Tavias Brown (6-foot-2, 370) and Jordan Robinson (5-10, 345) on the Red Storm defensive front, the Sentinels pounded the ball for 110 yards on 27 carries during the second half.
The punishment carried over to both sides of the ball.
“Kudos to their line, they played both ways,” Alkire said. “They are really big guys, and they were able to hang in with us and give us their best punch. We were able to stick with it. We were able to rotate probably six or seven different guys on our defensive line and really wore those guys down.”
Defensively, the Sentinels shut out Edmondson during the final three quarters, holding the squad from Baltimore to just 34 yards of offense after halftime.
The Red Storm turned it over on downs on all four of their second-half offensive possessions.
“We literally had six different defenses we were running tonight,” Alkire said. “It took a little bit to get their feet wet, shake off the cold. When they were able to figure it out, they were lights out again.”
Willis finished with 38 yards on nine carries and White tallied 34 on 10 touches. Carter Hess recorded a second-half sack. Overall, the Sentinels finished with 270 yards of offense, a figure slanted by their good field position. Fort Hill’s longest touchdown drive was just 49 yards.
Playing in frigid temperatures, both squads struggled to hold onto the football. The Sentinels fumbled the rock five times, losing two, and Edmondson did so six times, losing only one. Josh Holtman recovered the Red Storm giveaway.
Fort Hill led 28-14 at halftime, but it wasn’t as routine as the score may indicate.
After a 49-yard bomb from Schadt to Stubbs — on which the Sentinels burned the Red Storm for loading the box with 11 men — gave Fort Hill a 7-0 lead, Edmondson had an answer.
A bruising 12-play, 73-yard drive, featuring a trio of first downs by 6-2, 218-pound running back Bryan Berry, ended with a 13-yard pass from Ibrahim Karim to Abraham Tarley on fourth-and-seven.
Head coach Corey Johnson drew up a clever play, where Karim and the rest of the offense rolled right, and Tarley came across the left side uncovered.
Berry, who tallied 60 yards on 12 carries in the opening half, pounded the two-point conversion in for an 8-7 lead with 4:09 left in the first. He had just 18 yards after halftime.
Things went from bad to worse for the Sentinels, who fumbled to give Edmondson the ball on the Fort Hill 45. Two plays later, speedster Darrien Gaither went 43 yards down the left side for a score and a 14-7 edge.
Fort Hill answered in a heartbeat. White took the ensuing kickoff all the way to the Red Storm 39. A play later, Wertz found pay-dirt on a Marshawn Lynch-esque run to tie it up 14 apiece with 2:23 left in the first.
Edmondson fumbled to set up a short field, but its huge defensive tackles Tavias and Robinson stuffed White on fourth-and-two to spoil the field position.
The Red Storm returned the favor, going for it on fourth-and-18 with a fake punt, which Stubbs sniffed out to give Fort Hill the ball on the Edmondson 25. White capped the four-play drive with a 10-yard rushing score and a 20-14 edge as the game clock read 6:07 in the half.
Fort Hill forced a fumble, recovered by Holtman, to set up another short field on the Edmondson 31. And on the most physical 31-yard drive imaginable, the Sentinels converted two fourth-and-ones, the final a one-yard keeper by Schadt for a 28-14 halftime edge.
And the Sentinels cruised after halftime, led by their defense and the bruising running of Wertz, Willis and Welsh to advance to the state championship game for their seventh state title game appearance in the past eight full seasons.
Fort Hill will take on an opponent located 10 miles away in Annapolis, 160 miles from home, with Allegany County rival Mountain Ridge the only thing standing between the Sentinels and an eighth state title.
The Sentinels made quick work of the Miners in a 37-7 regular-season victory, but Alkire doesn’t expect it to be as routine in the rematch.
“The fact that two local schools are going to get to go down to Annapolis and play that game, it doesn’t get any better than that,” the second-year head coach said.
“Mountain Ridge has had a great season. We obviously got them the first time. I know that they’re going to come in with a great game plan, they’re going to make their adjustments from the first game and it’s going to be a much better game this time around.”