These Sentinels are in the discussion

MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports­­

It was 45-21 in the end, thanks to a Cooper Silber second-half field goal, which added an unintentional nice touch to the day for the Fort Hill Sentinels on Saturday, as they wrapped up their school’s 10th Maryland state football championship with their commanding victory over Mountain Ridge in Annapolis.

The score of 45 points, you see, reached some of us as being symbolic, as 45 is the jersey number, long since retired by the school, worn by the late, great Mark Manges when he was the quarterback of one of the greatest teams in the long history of Fort Hill football.

Manges, who died in October, was a two-time All-American for the Sentinels, having led the 1973 team to a perfect 10-0 season. That team remains the starting point in the discussions and debates concerning the best football teams of the modern era of Fort Hill High School.

The symbolism is real, because the 2023 Fort Hill Sentinels are now in that discussion, having put themselves in it with one of the most dominating football seasons in Cumberland area history.

Without question, this is one of the Fort Hill teams for the ages. I don’t compare teams from different times and different eras because it is impossible to say one is better than some of the others. But certainly this team has earned its place up there with the best Sentinels football the school has ever had.

As a classmate of mine, Rick Bridges, who was the starting split end for the 1975 undefeated state champion Sentinels, said on Sunday, “I guess we’re going to hear people talk about this team being one of the best we’ve ever had. And you know what? They are.”

Coach Bill Hahn’s great teams of the 1940s and ‘50s, Charlie Lattimer’s undefeated teams of 1963, ’73 and ’75, Mike Calhoun’s undefeated state champs of 1997 and Todd Appel’s undefeated state champs of 2013 and ’14; they’re all in the discussion, they’re all in the club, and now there’s a new member — Coach Zack Alkire’s undefeated state champs of 2023. They’re one of the best in school history.

They beat all comers, from Ohio, from Pennsylvania, from Virginia, from D.C. and at home, beginning with the Mountain Ridge Miners, a great football team and a great football program.

As all things Fort Hill football do, it began here in the weight room and transitioned directly to the play and the leadership of the line, led by left tackle Brayden Sines, left guard Camron Banks, center Riley Williams, right guard Logan Vanmeter and right tackle Carter Hess.

There was the versatile and talented backfield and secondary, the quarterback, poised and rock solid; and, of course, the defensive line, the linebackers and the special teams are always the heart of any Fort Hill team.

There was no weakness. Fort Hill realized all of the intangibles.

Running back Jabril Daniels took the opening handoff of the game, broke a tackle and went 63 yards for the touchdown, and he was just getting started; then adding touchdown runs of 64, 59, 42 and two yards — all in the first half, to finish with 301 yards and five scores on 21 carries, setting the MPSSAA state-title game rushing record in just one half, surpassing the mark of 270 yards set by Damascus’ Jake Funk in 2015.

Daniels also surpassed Steve Trimble and Ty Johnson in the Fort Hill record books along the way. For the day, Daniels broke three records that had been set by three players who not only starred for the University of Maryland, but who played and are playing in the NFL as well.

Just a junior, Daniels has already established himself as one of the best backs in Fort Hill history, though he reminds me of neither Trimble nor Johnson, but runs in a similar fashion of another one of Fort Hill’s greatest backs, Josh Page.

As did the record-setting Page, Daniels runs under control with a forward lean and has great vision in reading seams on the first level; then follows with a burst through the secondary with great cutting and tackle-breaking ability.

On the final play of the first half, Daniels scored from 59 yards out to break Johnson’s 2014 school record for the most rushing touchdowns in a season with 34, and also surpassed Johnson and Trimble (1975) by scoring 208 points in a season.

Daniels tied Allegany’s Karson Robinette (2017) for the city single-season touchdown mark and finished one shy of the single-season area record for rushing touchdowns set by Frankfort’s Travis Lynch in 1997, finishing his season with 1,823 yards rushing yards and 34 touchdowns.

It was a season and a team for all times and this achievement should be savored for a very long time.

But this, of course, is Fort Hill and already eyes have focused on next season (and I am not making this up), at least the eyes of some of the Sentinels’ fans have, as Sunday morning, less than 24 hours after an undefeated state championship season had been achieved, while trying to select some favorable produce at the market I was engaged by a Fort Hill fan bemoaning the pending graduation of all of this year’s Sentinel linemen.

“How are they going to replace that line?”

“Fort Hill seems to find a way to do that,” I said as I sized up the apples. “At least they have for the past 87 years or so.”

“I don’t know …”

I do.

It’s Fort Hill. Trust me.

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