MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

It was day and night, Literally.

The Fort Hill team that was handed everything it wanted to handle by Allegany on the Homecoming Saturday afternoon of a fortnight, before using its speed and three big plays to secure a 21-7 win, turned the tables entirely last Saturday night in the second round of the Maryland 1A state football playoffs to dominate the Campers in every way imaginable, 48-0, to advance to this weekend’s third round at home against Perryville.

In the 101st meeting between the Cumberland rivals, the 48-point margin is the largest points differential in the series’ history, eclipsing that of Fort Hill’s 50-7 win in the 2011 Homecoming Game, while the 48-0 shutout is the most lopsided shutout in the series’ history, topping the Sentinels’ 39-0 Homecoming win of 1996.

More stark than even those milestones were the contrasts in all the Sentinels did and in the way they played on Saturday night as opposed to what they did or did not do and how they played on Homecoming.

First of all, all credit to Allegany for the conservative aggressiveness with which it played on Homecoming, taking Fort Hill to task along both lines of the ball in helping make the 2022 Homecoming Game a legit contest.

It likely wouldn’t be fair to say that Fort Hill played vanilla during the Homecoming Game, but if you were from out of town and happened to watch both games, you wouldn’t have recognized the Sentinels as being the same team from two weeks apart.

Fort Hill made full-scale adjustments on both sides of the ball. They returned to a six-man defensive front and brought linebackers up as well, making it an eight-man front and trusting defensive backs Mikey Allen, Anthony Palmisano and Tavin Willis to be alone on the island for straight-man coverage, which those Sentinel cover guys played tight to the edges as well.

The result – one Allegany first down against Fort Hill’s first-team defense and just four yards of offense through the first three quarters.

The smothering defensive performance led to the Sentinels living off of what seemed to be free field position, with their average offensive possession for the game beginning at the Allegany 30-yard line.

In turn, the Sentinels showed very un-vanilla offensive sets and used imaginative play-calling in turning the lads loose to do that voodoo that they do well, on offense and again on special teams. Allen returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown and along with Tanner Wertz and Willis ran wild in space. Meanwhile, fullback Jabril Daniels ran like the latest Fort Hill fullback and scored two touchdowns to go along with Allen’s three.

The Sentinels’ approach was fresh and they styled as the team some of their frustrated fans had been looking to see on Homecoming. Fort Hill attacked, was aggressive and just looked very crisp.

It was a dominating performance to say the least, and brought to mind the 2005 Homecoming Game and playoff match-up between the two schools, when a battered and heavily injured Fort Hill team fought with everything it had to take the eventual undefeated state champion Allegany, which was led by Player of the Year Bryan Hansel, the current Alco head coach, to overtime, only to fall by a score of 21-14.

As then-Fort Hill head coach Barry Lattimer was very proud of the battle his team had fought that day, he wasn’t thrilled at all to learn the Sentinels had reached the playoffs by fractions of a point, thanks to some forfeitures elsewhere in the state, and, as the last seed in, would again play the top-seeded Campers the following week.

As it was this past week, hopeful fans had visions of another dog-eat-dog battle and, perhaps, a possible upset. But Lattimer knew what his team was up against and the cream rose to the top that night as the eventual state champs handled the Sentinels, 38-16.

Thus, this year’s Fort Hill team moves on to host Perryville this weekend at Greenway in a rematch of the 2011 state semifinal that Perryville won in overtime at Greenway, 20-14.

The Campers, on the other hand, close this season at 7-4, which is something they should be proud of in light of their still growing roster numbers and the many injuries in key positions they have faced since before summer practice even began. All small schools need more football players and, this just in, all three of our schools in Allegany County are small schools.

Yet given this 7-4 season on the heels of last year’s fine 8-3 season, when you consider where Allegany football was just three to four short years ago and the dire possibilities that existed, the future of Allegany football once more seems very promising.

The Sentinels, on the other hand, roll right along as they try to extend their chances for a very rewarding present.

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