MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Homecoming hangover: The day Cumberland, Maryland becomes a ghost town. No, really …

The Sunday after the Allegany-Fort Hill Homecoming football game is the annual barometer of the quality of and the emotional investment that this town deemed and/or made in the big game that was played the day before.

Based on my research and keen investigating skills, I came to the conclusion that it must have been a pretty good game, as somebody (no names, please) in this space said last week it would be; and it must have been a good Saturday night of celebrating or forgetting worries, because on Sunday, no one could be found anywhere around town, including the Pittsburgh Steelers fans, who are always out and about in droves on Sunday game day.

It was a good game to be sure, a 21-7 Fort Hill victory over Allegany. It was a game which Allegany controlled in nearly every facet except the one that matters the most, the final score. The Campers controlled the clock by nearly 13 minutes, offensive plays from the line of scrimmage, 50-35, and held Fort Hill to just four first downs for the game, two of which the Sentinels scored on. The Campers even held the lead, 7-6, for about five minutes in the second quarter.

What Allegany could not hold in check was the explosiveness of the Sentinels. The Campers and everybody else understood coming in that Fort Hill has the capability of scoring at anytime from anywhere on the field, which is what the Sentinels did on Saturday to win the 100th meeting between the two rivals.

Mikey Allen scored on a 79-yard pass from quarterback Anthony Burns on the second play from scrimmage to give the Sentinels a 6-0 lead. Alco’s emergency quarterback Cayden Bratton, who was named Offensive Player of the Game, helped put the Campers in front with a one-yard TD run three minutes into the second quarter, and Blake Powell’s kick made it 7-6.

Bratton carried the ball 34 times working out of the wildcat, and gained a game-high 89 yards.

After Fort Hill picked up its physical game, particularly on defense, to go toe-to-toe with the Campers, it was Allen again breaking one for 50 yards, with Burns’ pass to Bryson Metz for two putting the Sentinels up for good with just over three minutes in the third.

Then, moments into the fourth quarter, Anthony Palmisano, the Defensive Player of the Game for the second year in a row, returned a blocked field goal attempt 82 yards for the Fort Hill touchdown to put the game out of reach; all of which slots up, without getting ahead of ourselves, a rematch between the two teams in two weeks in the Maryland 1A playoffs.

That potential rematch hinges, of course, on Fort Hill and Allegany both winning their first-round games against Southern and Clear Spring respectively.

All in all, the day had the true feel of Homecoming in Cumberland in its grandest sense – perfect fall weather, a good crowd at Greenway, which is now even more beautiful after the latest renovations, and a great game, which in the case of Allegany-Fort Hill has always been determined by how long everybody can feel their heart pounding in their chest. And on Saturday, that would have been most of the afternoon.

Having not attended the game again this year, I was curious to see postgame reactions from the fans of both schools, and it was pretty interesting. I attended a wonderful charity event for cancer awareness held by our friend Roger Collins, and both sides of the rivalry were well represented.

From the Allegany fans, I saw what I expected to see – proud of the performance by the Campers, but disappointed they were unable to pull it off in losing to Fort Hill at Homecoming. They were not merely happy to have been in the game, they were disappointed their team lost the game, which, to me, is a very good sign for the prospects of Allegany football.

From the Fort Hill fans, I was a bit surprised to find some disappointment as well. While Sentinel fans I talked to were happy Fort Hill won the game, some expressed disappointment in aspects of the team’s play, mainly the two turnovers and nine penalties for 70 yards that the Sentinels committed.

I, of course, am of the age of just being delighted to win the big game, be it the Turkey Day Game or Homecoming, no matter how the performance may or may not have looked, or actually was. A win in that game lasts forever and they’re not come by easily, despite the perception some may have received from Fort Hill over the past 14 Homecomings and the past 17 meetings between the teams.

Understand that none of them comes easy, which is why it means so much for the players from both schools to have the opportunity to play in the game.

Odds are they are likely to do it again in two weeks, as both teams are now playing for each of their school’s ninth state championship, an opportunity that is invaluable as well, though with much higher stakes.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT