After being thwarted on their first two drives, the Sentinels drove 72 yards in 10 plays for the game’s first score and added two more touchdowns on ground-and-pound sequences before halftime on the way to a 35-14 victory over the 20th-ranked Warriors.
After compiling 405 yards on 56 carries, Fort Hill (14-0 overall) claimed its fourth straight state crown, extending its win streak to 26. The western Maryland school became the first to win four straight titles in the same classification.
The wait continues for Havre de Grace (10-3), which lost to Fort Hill, 44-14, in the title match a year ago at M&T Bank Stadium. The Harford County school lost in a state final for the fifth time since reaching the mountain top in 1986 (Class C).
“Fort Hill doesn’t get here and win this thing four years in a row by accident,” said Havre de Grace coach Brian Eberhardt, whose defense was sparked by junior linebacker RaShon Bray’s game-high 11 tackles. “They have a powerful offense.”
Things were looking good for Havre de Grace early in the contest after turning a potential disaster on an opening-kickoff fumble at its own 35-yard line into a confidence-building defensive stand that allowed just four yards in four plays.
Following their own three-and-out, the Warriors then flipped the field on junior Christian Penrow’s 59-yard rugby-style punt that pinned Fort Hill back on its own 10-yard line. Havre de Grace then forced another short series by the Sentinels, whose ensuing punt gave the Warriors a short field at the Fort Hill 32.
After a 13-yard pass from senior quarterback Mike Flosser to junior wideout Jordan Day gave Havre de Grace a first down at the Fort Hill 16, the Warriors were denied. Clay Harris’ 37-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Fort Hill senior Brayden Brown.
The block also denied Harris, the state single-season mark for field goals made in a season. The Sentinels took advantage.
Taking over at its own 28-yard line, Fort Hill went to work behind a running game with seniors Raen Smith, Brayden Brown and Troy Banks, who totaling more than 2,600 yards coming into Saturday. After probing the defense with a couple of runs by Smith, Brown bolted the the final 21 yards for a touchdown. Jacob Rummer’s conversion kick made it, 7-0, with five seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
The lead tripled in the second quarter on a 14-yard run by Brown and a 5-yard burst by Banks as the teams retired for the intermission with the Sentinels in control, 21-0. Havre de Grace would make things interesting in the second half.
Fort Hill fumbled the opening second half kickoff and senior linebacker Luke Butler recovered for Havre de Grace at the Sentinels’ 8-yard line. Three plays later, junior fullback Sean Greeley powered in from the 1-yard line and Harris’ extra point to slice the deficit to 21-7 with just under 11 minutes remaining in the third.
The Harford County school struck again on its next possession, a penalty-aided 43-yard drive capped by an 8-yard fade by Flosser to the corner of the end zone to senior wideout Kenneth Sumpter, closing the gap to cut Fort Hill’s to 21-14 with just under six minutes left in the third quarter. The Warriors’ momentum, however, wouldn’t last.
The Sentinels reasserted themselves at the point of attack as Brown and Banks to chew up 83 yards in 17 plays, and most of the clock in the third quarter. Banks covered the final 5 yards for the touchdown and a 28-14 advantage with 1:08 left.
Havre de Grace looked to answer, reaching Fort Hill’s 10 early in the fourth. But Flosser was intercepted by Brown at the 5-yard line.
“I was just a little late on the throw,” said Flosser. “(Brown) stepped in front and made a great play.”
The Sentinels iced the game later in the quarter with a 49-yard touchdown drive, capped with Brown’s 10-yard score with 3:38 remaining in regulation. Banks led the bruising Fort Hill’s rushing attack with 189 yards and three touchdowns, with Brown, a Coastal Carolina commit, finishing with 140.
Appel, whose team became the second in state history to win four straight titles (Urbana won fourth straight (three 2A and one 3A) between 1998 and 2001, admitted some pressure when the Warriors crept to within a score in the third quarter.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” Appel said. “But Havre de Grace caused a lot of those things to happen. We gave them a short field, but our defense still played well (holding the Warriors to 153 total yards).”
“With the experience we had from playing them last year, we knew how physical they were,” said Eberhardt, who was an assistant last season. “We had to try to match that, and I don’t know if we quite got that done. We had our chances, getting back to within 21-14, but their offense is awfully powerful and we couldn’t get over the hump.”
It was bittersweet for Flosser (12 for 34, 130 yards), playing his final contest along with a dozen of seniors.
“It’s a sad moment for me,” said Flosser. “But being in a championship game is a good way to go out.”
Class 1A state football championship
at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium
Fort Hill 35, No. 20 Havre de Grace 14
Havre de Grace 0 0 14 0 – 14
Fort Hill 0 7 7 14 7 – 35
Fort Hill – Brayden Brown 21 run (Jacob Rummer kick)
Fort Hill – Brown 14 run (run failed)
Fort Hill -Troy Banks 5 run (Luke Hamilton pass from Nathaniel Graves)
Havre de Grace – Sean Greeley 1 run (Clay Harris kick)
Havre de Grace – Kenneth Sumpter 8 pass from Mike Flosser (Harris kick)
Fort Hill – Banks 5 run (Rummer kick)
Fort Hill – Banks 10 run (Rummer kick)