Fort Hill, Mountain Ridge complete historic seasons, bring 19th title back to county

Dec. 4—ANNAPOLIS — No matter who won the Class 1A state championship on Saturday evening, Allegany County was ensured another football title.

The final game of the Class 1A season came down to two county teams for the second year in a row, and Fort Hill defended its 2021 crown with a 16-14 victory over Mountain Ridge on Saturday evening.

It's the 19th football championship won by Allegany County. Fort Hill has nine, Allegany eight and Valley two.

Recruiters don't often make the trek up Interstate 68 and through Sideling Hill into Western Maryland, but as the years go by, the championships make that same journey back to the county with regularity.

"There's a great brand of football out here in Western Maryland, and we keep proving it year after year after year that football in Allegany County is huge," said Fort Hill head coach Zack Alkire, who is 27-2 since taking over in 2020.

Despite the loss, Mountain Ridge (12-1) had plenty to be proud of this year. The Miners completed their first unbeaten regular season in school history and is 23-3 over the past two seasons.

The perfect slate, highlighted by a 30-8 victory over Fort Hill in Frostburg on Oct. 7, also secured the No. 1 seed in the playoffs for the first time in school history.

Since the start of last year, Fort Hill and Mountain Ridge have a 44-0 record against every team that isn't the other.

"It's a good brand of football," Mountain Ridge head coach Ryan Patterson said of the Allegany County game. "Everybody's known Fort Hill for a long time, but I think we've got our name out there, too. It definitely speaks to our county. It's a physical brand of football."

The rematch for all the marbles was indicative of such, as just a 23-yard field goal by Fort Hill senior Quinn Cohen as time expired separated the two titans of Class 1A.

Cohen wasn't the only senior to rise to the occasion. Mountain Ridge quarterback Uma Pua'auli led a group of 17 seniors on the Miners, setting the area single-season passing touchdown record along the way.

Pua'auli's 30th score of the season, a 30-yard pass to Landon McAlpine that found the end zone on the first play of the second quarter, set the new area high mark.

When asked what he'll remember most about the historic season — which saw the Western Allegany County juggernaut beat every opponent on its slate by 22 or more points before Saturday — Pua'auli said the following:

"The early-morning workouts, 6 a.m. over summer. The hard work every morning before school, had a lot of seniors show up. Practices were good too. Team meals were cool. Just hanging around the guys."

For Fort Hill, it was same old same old. The expectations have been set since the Sentinels captured the Class A championship under Charlie Lattimer in 1975.

Mike Calhoun built on the tradition, leading Fort Hill to a 13-0 season and the 1997 2A title, and Todd Appel took the program to another level with four consecutive Class 1A crowns beginning in 2013 and a fifth in 2018.

Many believed the COVID-19 pandemic and a new coaching staff could put a stop to the dominance, but Alkire and Co. took off right where their predecessor left off, winning titles in both of the head coach's first two seasons.

The latest Fort Hill championship broke a tie with Allegany for the county record.

"The F Club created 'Titletown' shirts this year," Alkire said. "We were tied with Allegany. Last year, I referenced they can't hold that over top of us anymore. Now they really can't. It's nice to have nine, it's nice to be the leader."

Most high schoolers go their entire careers without winning the last game of the year, and Fort Hill's seniors can say they've done it twice in a row.

Senior Tavin Willis — one of 17 fourth-years on the Sentinels' roster — scored both of Fort Hill's touchdowns Saturday and rushed for a game-high 88 yards on 13 touches.

"I always knew, as soon as I came to Fort Hill, we could win state championships, we could be great, we could be the best in 1A," he said. "It feels like a dream right now.

"To go out and do it back-to-back, not a lot of kids get to experience this. I'm just grateful that I got to."

Fort Hill has the firepower to win a third in a row next season.

Fullback Jabril Daniels came on late in the year to score double-digit touchdowns as a sophomore. Daniels is the brother of Saquan Jenkins, whose killer was sentenced on Thursday — just two days before Jenkins' former team captured another championship in his honor.

Daniels will return along with dominant lineman Carter Hess, who had four tackles and a sack on Saturday.

"I did it for these guys here," he said, gesturing toward the Fort Hill seniors sitting beside him. "I don't care about winning the title for myself. I do it for these guys. I like seeing the smile on their face. I do it for them."

Alex Rychwalski is a sports reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.