The way and the where it should all take place

MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

For the third year in a row, Fort Hill and Mountain Ridge will play for the Maryland 1A state championship Saturday, noon, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

Will it be No. 10 and the third title in a row for Fort Hill (12-0), or will the third time be the charm for Mountain Ridge (11-1)? Fort Hill seems to be the prohibitive favorite, which I’m sure Mountain Ridge doesn’t mind; and, for that matter, I’m sure Fort Hill doesn’t mind either.

The Sentinels have been unstoppable this season, seemingly being the only team capable of slowing itself down, led by some of the most formidable line play I’ve seen around here.

Sure, Fort Hill has had some moments of sleepwalking and penalties, though not many; but when they’ve ridden the play and the leadership of their all-senior lines, which has been all of the time, they’ve been unbeatable.

It’s going to be two great football programs top to bottom getting after each other for the third straight year, and for the sixth overall time in three seasons.

Under head coach Ryan Patterson and his staff, the Miners have not only put talent on the field, but they’re automatically better than most teams that step onto the field with them because of their preparation, their resiliency, their adaptability, their creativity and their sense of team.

It’s the same sense of team, program and all-in that Fort Hill has continued to play with under head coach Zack Alkire and his staff. They win with senior-dominated teams, teams that are predominantly underclassmen and with teams that rely on their skill positions to lead or, in this instance, their line play. Though, have you seen how talented and good their skill players are?

The Sentinels, too, have adapted to all that’s come their way (from Ohio in one case), because they, too, are prepared, having won 20 games in a row and 12 straight playoff games. And much like their coach, they seem to have an even and unflappable disposition.

There is a lot here for Allegany County and Western Maryland to be proud of and it will once again play out on center stage Saturday in Annapolis.

Speaking of which, for years and years, as far back to when the state championship games were played in College Park and then Baltimore, some fans here liked to play the what-ifs and suggest that if Allegany and Fort Hill were to ever meet in the state championship game (which was impossible in most years) the game should be played in Cumberland at Greenway rather than have everybody drive down the road to watch two Cumberland teams play each other in the metropolitan area.

We’ve heard the same suggestion — and in a few amusing instances, demands (yeah, right) — the past three seasons for each Mountain Ridge-Fort Hill state title game, all of which some here say should have been and should be played in Allegany County.

Aside from the fact that it’s never going to happen, why on earth would we really want to do that?

First of all, and most importantly, this isn’t about us, though the MPSSAA gladly takes our money, even though they make it more and more difficult for us to give it to them. It’s about the players on the respective teams and the students of each school. They don’t want to play it here.

Why would Mountain Ridge want to play its state championship game in Fort Hill’s home stadium? Why would Fort Hill have wanted to play last year’s state championship game in Mountain Ridge’s home stadium?

Why would Allegany and Fort Hill ever have wanted to play each other in a state title game here in the stadium they share with each other? They wouldn’t have, no more than Mountain Ridge and Fort Hill would want to stay home to play for the state title. It wouldn’t be as memorable for them, or as much fun as playing in Annapolis is going to be.

Both of these teams have earned the right to be somewhere together and give it their best shot in the biggest game of their lives. They’re going to be where they deserve to be.

Saturday is the day for the players, the bands, the drill teams, the cheerleaders, the respective student bodies; so let them have it and enjoy it. They’ll remember playing in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for the rest of their lives.

What could be better than playing for a state championship or cheering on your friends and classmates in the capital of the state in a college stadium at the United States Naval Academy? Heck, that alone gives it even more of a state championship aura, and makes it even more of a state championship game. Kind of like “Hoosiers,” only with six classifications rather than one (And, oh, yeah, football, not basketball).

The two best teams in the state are playing for the state championship in the state capital when the sun is at its highest — noon. Call it high noon.

It’s going to be one helluva great day for Fort Hill, for Mountain Ridge and for all of Allegany County.

Who could possibly not like that?

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]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT