Fort Hill recovers to rout Smithsburg, 48-20, improves to 7-0

Oct 15, 2021
Alex Rychwalski

SMITHSBURG, Md. — Everything about Fort Hill’s matchup with Smithsburg had the makings of a trap game: It was coming off a win over Mountain Ridge, on a Thursday night, on grass. The Sentinels overcame it.

The Leopards did give Fort Hill a modest scare, getting the ball back with a chance to go ahead down just 19-13 midway through the second quarter.

But, led by the legs of Tanner Wertz and Blake White, who combined for more than 300 yards rushing, and the ball-hawking play of Tavin Willis, Fort Hill pulled away from Smithsburg, 48-20, to improve to 7-0.

“Smithsburg came out ready to play, it’s their Senior Night and they were inspired,” Fort Hill head coach Zack Alkire said. “They forced us to play a four-quarter game, and we’re happy to come away with a win.

“Adversity is never a bad thing. That’s one of the worries, that the back end of the schedule after the Mountain Ridge game, relaxing into a game on a Thursday night, coming into their house on grass.

“(Smithsburg) showed that they could take punches as well. Teams just aren’t going to roll over and play dead for us. We’ve got to show up and play every game.”

The turning point came late in the second quarter.

Smithsburg (2-5) forced the Sentinels into a punt and got the ball back with an opportunity to go ahead with a touchdown.

Fort Hill’s defense responded and the Leopards punted. Then, the Sentinels drove 60 yards on three plays, capped by a 17-yard White scamper, to give themselves a cushion up 27-13.

Willis picked off Smithsburg’s Dylan Moser on the Leopards’ very next play from scrimmage, and the sophomore returned it 50 yards to the house to put Fort Hill up 34-13 entering intermission, and it never looked back.

Wertz was the leading ground gainer with 166 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. The senior’s previous season-high rushing was 51 against Old Mill five weeks ago.

“Tanner’s really tough, he takes after his brother and his older brothers,” Alkire said. “All the Wertzes I’ve ever known have been tough kids, resilient kids, kids that will battle. He battled today and had a great game.”

White was second on the squad with 152 yards and a pair of scores on 15 touches. Bryce Schadt tallied 62 rushing yards, Willis had 37 and a TD, and Anthony Palmisano ended with 19 yards and a touchdown.

Willis scored from 15 yards out with 6:28 left in the third quarter, and Palmisano’s touchdown was a five-yard rush early in the fourth quarter.

Overall, the Sentinels carried the ball 52 times for 459 yards and had 21 first downs. Smithsburg ended with 205 yards of total offense and 12 first downs.

It wasn’t all good, though. Moser, Smithsburg’s quarterback, was able to complete 13 of 19 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns, scoring another with his legs.

Joshua Kalons and Joseph Ryans also managed to pick off Schadt, as the teams were tied in the turnover battle, 2-2.

And on defense, the Sentinels had an undisciplined first half.

On one drive during the second quarter, in particular, Smithsburg was able to drive down the field for a touchdown thanks to three penalties for first downs in a row: an offsides on 2nd-and-short, a personal foul and a roughing the passer.

All-in-all, Fort Hill was penalized five times for 55 yards, something it was able to avoid in an emotional win against Mountain Ridge last Friday.

“That’s just a matter of not letting what’s happening around us get to our heads,” Alkire said. “This group has struggled with that at times, but they’ve been better. Tonight, they let it get to them a little bit. We’ve got to keep working on that, keep plugging away. Hopefully, when we get into the crunch time in playoffs, we’ll keep our composure.”

Emotion is something that’s helped fuel this Fort Hill team all season, but going forward, the Sentinels can’t afford to let their emotions get the better of them against better competition.

“They’re super competitive, and you can’t take that away from them,” Alkire said. “They’re always competitive whether it’s lifting, whether it’s sprint teams, whether it’s practice. They’re always super competitive and want to win, want to come out on top. That’s where it stems from, we just need to be able to harness it and control it.”

White accounted for Fort Hill’s first score, as the senior fullback ended a three-play, 58-yard series with a 40-yard burst up the middle with 9:37 left in the opening frame.

After a Smithsburg punt, the next drive was all Wertz, who was just caught by a shoestring tackle but not before a 57-yard run, later running eight yards into the end zone for a 13-0 lead.

Fort Hill kicker Jacob Tichnell was late to the game after finishing up a soccer match against Bishop Walsh, who the Sentinels beat 2-1 with Tichnell in goal, prompting Conner Linn to assume the duties. Linn was 1 for 2 on PAT tries and did well on kick offs.

When Tichnell returned during the second quarter, he was a perfect 3 for 3 on extra points the rest of the way.

Smithsburg scored its first points on a Fort Hill defensive lapse on third down, as running back Ashton Redman went uncovered up the seam for a 75-yard passing touchdown from Moser.

Wertz hit pay-dirt again, this time from 22 yards out, for a 19-7 edge. The junior had 161 yards on nine carries during the first half alone.

Yet, a series of defensive lapses and personal foul penalties gave Smithsburg a touchdown on a silver platter. Moser didn’t waste the chance, scoring a rushing TD from 11 yards out to cut the deficit to 19-13 with 9:06 left in the opening half.

Fort Hill responded, and the rest of the half was all Sentinels to race into the break up three scores.

At the half, Fort Hill had 10 first downs and Smithsburg had eight — four of which came off of penalties.

The Sentinels had 262 rushing yards during the first half. Smithsburg had 140 yards of total offense, 121 of which came via the right arm of Moser.

Fort Hill has a bye week up next for the time being unless it’s able to find a Week 8 opponent. If not, its next game will be against Allegany during Homecoming.