Sep. 10—MILLERSVILLE, Md. — You don't win 13 games in a row by accident, and even when No. 14 seemed improbable, impossible even, Fort Hill found a way.
After marching on a 17-play, 87-yard drive that ate up almost 10 minutes, Fort Hill was stood up on the two-point conversion by Old Mill. Trailing 7-6 with 2:30 left, the Sentinels needed a miracle.
Fort Hill got one.
The Sentinels recovered Quinn Cohen's onside kick and drove inside the five-yard line to set up his 21-yard field goal to win it. Cohen split the uprights as time expired, and the Fort Hill faithful erupted.
Old Mill gave Fort Hill everything it could handle, but led by a ferocious defensive effort, the Sentinels found a way to win 9-7 on Friday night and extend their streak to 14 games.
"We told them at halftime that it would be nice to run the clock on everybody, but this will determine the outcome of our team moving forward," Fort Hill head coach Zack Alkire said. "Win or lose, we'd have some kind of response to it.
"The fact that they were able to buckle down, things weren't going the way that we wanted to go, but we still persevered and got the victory. That says a lot about these kids."
The Fort Hill offense came up with the plays late to escape Millersville victorious, but the Sentinels' defense was the story of the game.
Old Mill, which averaged more than 41 points per game a season ago, was limited to just 147 total yards and five first downs. The Patriots managed 112 yards rushing on 28 carries, but two of those carries resulted in 60 yards.
To even have a chance at some late-game heroics, Fort Hill held Old Mill without points on two crucial third-quarter series to keep the deficit at 7-0.
Old Mill started its first drive of the second half on the Fort Hill 30, but Tony Palmisano picked off Old Mill's Maximus Jones. The Patriots had 4th-and-2 on the Fort Hill 29 on their next drive, and the Sentinels stood tall to force a turnover on downs.
Even when the offense wasn't able to move the football, Fort Hill's defense stayed in the game. They were eventually rewarded.
"We promised our coach that even if we lost the game by seven, we wouldn't give up any more points," reigning Lineman of the Year Carter Hess said. "It was hell, but the coaches did a great job in the second half."
Following a scoreless third quarter, Fort Hill began the fourth needing to drive 87 yards to tie the game or win it. At the time, the Sentinels had fewer than 50 yards of total offense.
Alkire and his staff made the adjustment at halftime to utilize the power running of Shane Welsh at fullback, and the senior changed the tide of the game.
"Everybody came together at the end," Welsh said. "You get three or four yards a carry and you get a first down. That's all you need."
On 4th-and-1 from their own 43 with 7:30 left, Lance Bender powered over the first-down line to extend the drive.
A heavy dose of Welsh, who had 12 carries for 41 yards during the second half, eventually set up the play action, and Bender connected with Mikey Allen for 19 yards.
Another first down by Welsh — Fort Hill's sixth of the drive — set up first and goal from the five.
"That was one of the things we talked about at halftime, just go back to our roots and run behind the fullback," Alkire said. "That just goes to show the overall depth of the team. That's one of those six or seven guys in the backfield that can get the job done for us."
Two plays later, Tavin Willis ran off right tackle and found the corner of the end zone to cut the deficit to 7-6 with 2:30 left.
Alkire went for the win, but Old Mill, with a host of physical and imposing defensive linemen, piled on Welsh and stopped him short of the end zone.
Fort Hill needed to recover an onside kick, and it turned to Cohen, in his first year playing football.
"We haven't really practiced onside kicks that much," Cohen said. "The ref came over and said some stuff, I didn't really know what he was talking about. I was like, I just have to go out there and do it."
It wasn't a perfect kick, but it went 10 yards and bounced in and out of the hands of an Old Mill special teamer. Fort Hill's Tyler Hopkins recovered.
Still, the game wasn't won. Fort Hill had a little over two minutes to get into field goal range from its own 41. For a run-first team, that's no easy feat.
With 1:03 left, Fort Hill was only on the Old Mill 40; however, a 25-yard run by Tanner Wertz off left tackle and an Old Mill penalty moved the Sentinels inside the 10-yard line.
Willis ran the ball six yards down to the two, and Cohen came on for the game winner from 21 yards out.
The kick split the uprights, and the miracle was complete.
"We recovered it, and I threw up like four times as we made our way down the field," Cohen said. "Coming from soccer to this, being able to make that kick two games into the season, there's nothing like it."
Wertz finished as Fort Hill's leading rusher with 50 yards on 14 carries. Welsh gained 44 on 13 totes, Willis rushed for 30 on nine gives and Allen gained 23 on 10 carries.
Bender completed 3 of 8 passes for 57 yards. Bryson Metz hauled in one pass for 26 yards, and Allen made two grabs for 27.
Both offenses had a rough go of it before halftime, but Old Mill used a big play to enter the intermission with a 7-0 lead.
After nearly 23 minutes of scoreless football, Maximus Jones punched in a four-yard rushing touchdown, and Kyle Wood drilled the PAT for the half's lone points.
Old Mill looked to be headed for its fourth three-and-out of the half, but an end-around netted the Patriots a 37-yard rush.
The chunk yardage was compounded by a 15-yard personal foul on Fort Hill, which netted Old Mill more than 50 yards on the play to enter the red zone for the first time.
Penalties were a problem for Fort Hill before halftime, as the Sentinels committed five for 45 yards. However, they cleaned them up after halftime, making just one penalty for five yards.
Penalties, particularly false starts, hampered Old Mill all night. The Patriots were penalized 11 times for 65 yards.
Each offense was out-of-sorts for much of the opening period. The game's first four drives ended with three-and-outs, with Allen moving the chains for the first time for either side with a seven-yard run with three minutes left in the first quarter.
Fort Hill's opening two drives were hampered by mishandling of the football, though the Sentinels recovered all three of their fumbles before halftime.
With the exception of the long end-around, the Sentinels' defense was dominant before the intermission, limiting Old Mill to only 93 yards and three first downs.
Fort Hill's offense failed to get a first down on five of its six first possessions, gaining 55 yards total. The Sentinels rushed for 29 yards on 18 carries before halftime.
Cohen was instrumental in flipping the field early as a punter, as Old Mill began all five of its drives before halftime on its own side of the field.
Few teams have played Fort Hill as well as Old Mill did during the regular season over the past few years. Old Mill, which advanced to the Class 4A quarterfinals last year and has an enrollment in excess of 2,000 students, fought the Sentinels until the bitter end.
Unfortunately, only one team could leave with a win.
"They're a phenomenal team, they're a great program," Alkire said. "They came up and played one of our toughest games last year.
"You could tell pregame that they had us circled. They came out and they were extremely focused. They're chomping at the bit to play. Kudos to them and their program. ... They deserved to win the game, but I'm just happy that we did."
Fort Hill improves to 2-0 and will host Southern at Greenway Avenue Stadium next Saturday at 5 p.m.
Alex Rychwalski is a sports reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.