MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

So, here it is, another Fort Hill-Allegany football week to keep folks chirping, talking, buzzing and to get them to Friday night, since there aren’t many of those left at this point on the calendar.

Fort Hill-Allegany; Allegany-Fort Hill.

My rule of thumb as a sportswriter and sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News for nearly 36 years was when both schools had to be mentioned in the same sentence or in the same thought, mention them alphabetically in all references (meaning Allegany went first) until they played each other in whatever sport it was, and then the winner of that meeting received first billing for the rest of the year, or at least until after, perhaps, the second meeting, and then you just flipped a coin.

If that sounds petty, it is. Yet that is what we dealt with, because somebody would always complain about the order in which they were mentioned in the references, and I sincerely wish I were kidding when I tell you this. But I am not.

I loved the Turkey Day Game, but, since 1974, I have always loved the Homecoming Game between the schools more. It’s part of the season; it’s not disjointed from the first eight (then nine) games. You don’t have to wait two-plus weeks, as you did with the Turkey Day Game. Both teams are still in the groove and, since 1974, the Fort Hill-Allegany games (Fort Hill won the first one) have been consistently better games.

Plus, there are the state playoffs, which is why they eliminated the Turkey Day Game, and which is why we are where we are now.

Fort Hill won the Homecoming Game two weeks ago, 21-7. Both teams won their first-round playoff games this past weekend. Now they meet each other again in the second round, shooting for the right to stay alive to play the beast that awaits, the top seed in Maryland Class 1A, Mountain Ridge, who beat both teams during the regular season.

This will be the 11th time Fort Hill and Allegany will meet in the Maryland state football playoffs beginning in 1994, with Fort Hill holding a 7-3 advantage in those games.

This year the Sentinels beat the Campers in a gutty, gritty contest in front of a good crowd on a beautiful fall day. As for who will win the playoff game on Friday, I have no idea, though I am certain Fort Hill would be the favorite.

However, both teams feel good about their chances on Friday based on their thoughts and comments after their respective first-round playoff games, and that’s as it should be. Personally, I have no idea on how this game will go since, when I walk away, I walk away. Yet I continue to be intrigued by the Allegany-Fort Hill/Fort Hill-Allegany rivalry (hey, it’s an old habit), as I believe most of us who grew up in Cumberland are.

From what I can tell, both teams are different, even since they last played just a couple of short weeks ago. Clearly, both teams have different motivations for this one than they did for the annual rivalry game since a lot more is at stake.

So while I understand Friday’s game should be another tight, tense and fascinating game, one which will be certain to leave one side of town really ticked off, and while I understand these rematches between these ancient Cumberland rivals in the same season are absolutely necessary given the state-playoff circumstance, I have never liked these game, not one iota.

For years, we here in Cumberland longed for and wished Fort Hill and Allegany would meet in the state football playoffs or, God help us, the final, which can now happen (see Mountain Ridge).

So in 1994 when it finally did happen between two of the greatest teams in both schools’ history, we got what we wished for, but before the playoff game was even played, we weren’t at all sure we really liked it. And, frankly, I still don’t like it all these years later.

While I have not covered every Allegany-Fort Hill football playoff game, I have covered most of them and have had a hand in covering all of them. And I hate them. I hate the necessity of them.

Homecoming is a gala; it’s festive; it’s daylight; it’s community; it’s celebration of community, and it is friendship.

Which is why former Fort Hill head coach Mike Calhoun, in 1994 as coach of the top seed, did not want to play Allegany again on Saturday in the playoff game. He did not want a Homecoming atmosphere and all that goes with it through the week. He wanted business.

In turn, all 10 of these playoff games have been played on Friday night. They are not gala, festive, daylight, community, celebration or friendship. They are kill or be killed. But only, mind you, in the sportsmanship sense.

The nights of the games carry black skies, eerie settings, still air, whether the air is warm, chill, or freezing cold and windy as it was in 2008.

On top of that, it’s another week of tension leading to the game I do not need and choose to do without.

Should be a great game, though. Most of them are.

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