Fort Hill's the state champion
Mike Burke
Cumberland Times-News
November 30, 1997

Sentinels beat Dunbar for Maryland 2A crown

COLLEGE PARK - Just when the breaks appeared to be getting the best of them, the Fort Hill Sentinels went to their horse for the final time and to the surprise of no one, fullback Josh Page and the rest of his teammates delivered at the wire to defeat Dunbar 22-6 Saturday and win the Maryland Class 2A state championship in front of approximately 10,000 fans at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium.

Page, the 6-3, 220-pound fullback who has scored more touchdowns (71) and more points (438) than any player in the history of Maryland scholastic football, made his final game at Fort Hill one to remember, pounding the Poets' defense for 125 yards on 33 carries and scoring two touchdowns and a two-point conversion in a 22-point third quarter that provided the South Cumberland high school with its second football state title.

Page finishes his career with 4,987 rushing yards, but his individual accomplishments were of little interest to him Saturday night as he, his teammates and thousands of Fort Hill fans celebrated on the turf of Byrd Stadium.

"I have no thoughts," said Page. "None that I can really share with you at this moment. When things didn't look good at halftime, we came together and decided without ever really saying it that we were going to be state champions."

"And here we are. Look at us now. State champions."

The Sentinels (13-0) had two scoring opportunities in the first half but squandered them on lost fumbles, going into the dressing room in a scoreless tie despite the 10-carry, 94-yard performance of Halfback Noah Read. If the Sentinels were feeling unsure at that point they had good reason to as it was learned Read would miss the rest of the game with what is believed to be a broken fibula.

"Frustration," said Fort Hill head coach Mike Calhoun. "That, more than anything, is what we were feeling. You know, we had two scoring chances that we didn't take advantage of. We had lost Noah. We were looking around."

"But our coaches made great adjustments at the half and we pumped into our kids that they had been playing great defense so if they kept that level of defensive play, we'd find a way offensively. We'd find something."

What the Sentinels found were three plays: off-tackle, the quick pitch, and the fullback trap. And what the Sentinels found along with it was a breakthrough performance by junior halfback Jordan Hamilton, who would rush for 67 yards on nine carries and score Fort Hill's second touchdown of the night.

Fort Hill took the ball at its 35 to start the second half and a toss left to Hamilton immediately gained 17 yards. After a Page gain of seven, Hamilton went back to the left side for 15 more to set up Page's gain of nine.

On second and nine from the Dunbar 17, Page took the load the rest of the way, going left for eight yards, gaining seven more on a trap, and going over the left side from two yards out for the first Fort Hill touchdown of the night with 9:27 left in the third quarter. The kick for conversion missed and Fort Hill kicked off with a 6-0 lead.

Hamilton made a big stop on the ensuing kickoff, giving the Poets poor field position at their 18. On second and 10 from the 29, quarterback DeNelle Hale sent an option pitch right to running back Thomas James, who was popped by Fort Hill linebacker Tommy Welsh. The ball aquirted loose and linebacker Rick Jenkins recovered at the Dunbar 28 with 8:33 left.

Fort Hill and Hamilton were beating Dunbar on the corners as the junior halfback gained 15 on first down to take the ball to the 13. On second and seven from the 10, Hamilton again worked the left side and ran over Dunbar's Will Patterson to get into the end zone with 7:45 left in the third quarter, giving Fort Hill a 12-0 lead.

The Sentinels went for two points and Hamilton was successful in providing the 14-0 lead.

Dunbar, however, would climb right back into it as Tyrone Henderson returned the ensuing kickoff 66 yares to the Fort Hill 26 with Mike Page making the touchdown-saving tackle.

Three plays later, Hale found wide receiver Chris Barnes in the end zone between Fort Hill defenders Trae Foster and Jared Fradiska. The coverage was good enough, but the pass and the catch were even better as Barnes took in the 25-yard pass to bring Dunbar to within 14-6 with 5:54 left in the third quarter.

The pass for two points was incomplete.

The Sentinels then gave the ball back to the Poets after three plays but Mike Page picked off a Hale Pass at the Dunbar 40 and returned it 29 yards to the 11.

On four carries, Josh Page gained four, one and four yards before barreling over the left side on fourth-and-one for the two-yard touchdown with 1:37 left in the quarter.

On the run for two points, Page broke two tackles to put Fort Hill ahead, 22-6.

The Sentinels forced a punt and then went back to work offensively for the drive that would ensure the state championship.

With 11:52 left in the game, Fort Hill took over at its 30 and pieced together a 13-play, 55-yard drive that, most importantly, would eat 7:18 of clock. Again, the Sentinels ran their three basic plays with Page gaining 27 yards on eight carries. But they ran them with such precision and force, the Poets were practically helpless before stopping Hamilton on fourth and three, one yard short of the first down at the Dunbar 15 with 4:34 left in the game.

Thanks to a 12-yard sack of Hale by Nathan Weaver Fort Hill got the ball back with 2:55 left in the game and stayed with Josh Page as the fullback carried five times for 18 yards. As he went over the left side for a four-yard gain and a first down at the Dunbar 42 with 1:30 left in the game, head coach Calhoun and assistant coach Barry Lattimer were doused with ice by members of the about-to-be-crowned state champions.

With 10 seconds left in the game, Welsh picked off a Hale pass deep in Fort Hill territory and the celebration began.

"I'm most proud of the fashion with which we won this state championship," said Calhoun. "We overcame a lot of adversity and the loss of Noah Read. We went with three basic plays, drove the ball on a great Dunbar team and then stopped a great Dunbar team with our defense.

"This team never failed to rise to the occasion and tonight was the biggest occasion they've met, and the rose to it like the champions that they are. It takes a special group of kids to do that and in the second half they decided they were going to come out and win the game."

"I'm happy for our seniors, one of the best classes ever at Fort Hill, and they set winning the state championship as their number-one goal. And I think we're all happiest for the Fort Hill community. I think they wanted this more than even we did. And look at them out here. They're proud of our kids. Our people know this was not an easy win, and that makes it on of the great wins in Fort Hill history."