Oct. 28—CUMBERLAND — It's been 16 years since Allegany last won a Homecoming game. For the first time in some time, the Campers have the talent to end Fort Hill's long streak.
Fort Hill is still Fort Hill, unblemished at 8-0 and ranked No. 12 in the state, led by the bruising running of fullback Jabril Daniels and an offensive line comprised of five seniors, anchored by Carter Hess.
Yet, Allegany has the horses to compete. The Campers average more total yards, more yards rushing and more yards passing than the Sentinels with an offense that starts 10 seniors.
Allegany has won five straight games, all in dominating fashion, to roll into Homecoming at 6-2.
Talent aside, Fort Hill is still the favorite, as it seemingly always has been since Allegany's last Homecoming win in 2007 or the playoff win over its crosstown rival in 2009, but the Campers have the ability this season.
If Allegany can avoid a slow start and prevent Fort Hill from getting rolling early — something no team has done this season — expect a four-quarter football game.
The 102nd meeting between Allegany and Fort Hill and 87th Homecoming game kicks off at 12:30 p.m. today.
"It should be a really good battle," Fort Hill head coach Zack Alkire said. "They're starting to peak at the right time. They've put up points against some good teams. They'll be a handful."
The weather forecast at Greenway Avenue Stadium is expected to be as good as the football game, as the kickoff is slated to be met with partly cloudy skies, 75 degrees and winds at 8 miles per hour.
It will be a welcome sign to Fort Hill and Allegany since both teams have battled rain throughout the season, including last week when Fort Hill routed New Oxford, 49-21, and Allegany rolled past Northern, 57-21.
Alkire is 2-0 in Homecoming as the Sentinels' coach, continuing the tradition left by Hall of Fame coach Todd Appel, who was 12-0 in the game.
Allegany coach Bryan Hansel is still searching for his first victory as the head man, as he enters with an 0-6 mark — though he did sweep Fort Hill in Homecoming and in the playoffs as a senior star player in 2005.
"We have multiple levels to our plan to attack them," Hansel said. "We aren't going to go down without swinging. If you want to change history, and history is against us, you can't keep doing the same thing over and over.
"We want to be over-prepared. We have a plan A, plan B on offense and defense. If A doesn't work, we move down the list. We need to give the kids every opportunity to win the game."
The discussion with Fort Hill begins with its pair of Area Player of the Year candidates in Daniels and Hess.
Daniels is the area's leading rusher with 1,091 yards on 123 carries and 18 total touchdowns in seven games. He runs behind a seasoned line, fortified on the right side by Hess, a Fordham commit and the area's leading tackler on defense.
Fort Hill quarterback Deshaun Brown is 23 for 34 for 442 yards, five touchdowns and has yet to throw an interception.
While Allegany has the talent to win the football game, Hansel is well aware of the challenges that Fort Hill will present.
"They're a very talented football team," he said. "Up front, they're reloaded. Jabril (Daniels) is having a huge year, he's a very tough back to tackle. If you let him get moving he's tough to stop.
"Their offensive line is very impressive. It starts with Carter (Hess), but the other guys are stepping up big time. They're making great running lanes."
Allegany's backfield is home to four backs who average at least 45 rushing yards a game in Brett Patterson (100 ypg), Isaiah Fields (86.4), Dae Dae Smith (52.7) and Brody Williams (46.6).
"They've done a really good job of spreading the ball around," Alkire said. "Pretty balanced in terms of different kids getting the ball. They have a good mix of run and pass, a defense that flies around and they're good on special teams."
The Campers average 37 points per game and allow 17.3, while the Sentinels score 35.4 and allow 13 a night.
Allegany averages more yards on offense (388.3-338.5), passing yards (88.3-57.8) and rushing yards (300-280.8) than Fort Hill.
In addition to the weapons in the backfield, Allegany has shown an ability to throw the football that it hasn't displayed in the past. Williams has completed 31 of 59 passes for 10 touchdowns and an interception.
Williams' top target, Zach Michael, has made 17 grabs for 390 yards and an area-best eight receiving scores.
"It's been the focus of our defense," Alkire said of the Allegany passing game. "We have to know where Zach Michael is at all times, and cover everybody else in the quick passing game."
The game may be decided by Allegany's ability to find an answer for Hess along the defensive line. The senior stalwart has 82 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and six sacks.
Alkire believes Allegany is going to try to use a quick passing game to neutralize his defensive centerpiece, but Hansel stressed the importance of establishing the run to set up the Campers' aerial attack.
Hansel also highlighted the importance of zeroing in on where Hess is lining up early on.
"They move him around at times and change fronts depending on who they're playing or how we're lining up," Hansel said. "As you move through the game, you have to game-plan around that and pick your plays accordingly. He's been a force for three years now.
"If you can't establish the run early in the game, you won't be able to throw it with continued success. If you get in the down and distances when they know you have to throw it, that's when they dial some things up with their front."
The playoff seeding is locked in with Fort Hill maintaining the No. 1 spot in the region, Mountain Ridge at No. 2 and Allegany third.
It's a possibility that Fort Hill and Allegany could have a rematch in the state semifinals or in Annapolis if both teams advance that far; however, both coaches said they'll play all the necessary cards to win Saturday.
"I'm not a big fan of holding things back," Alkire said. "We created offensive and defensive schemes we think will be successful. If we have to play again, we'll evaluate what worked, what didn't."
Each team will also have some things in their playbook the other hasn't seen so far this season.
Fort Hill is the more tested team, having played four teams with a combined 30-4 record from four different states in its past four games.
The most physical of those games was a 36-35 outlasting of Wadsworth (Ohio) (8-2), a game in which Fort Hill had to drive 92 yards and convert a two-point conversion to leave with a victory.
The difficult stretch of games could impact the Sentinels' bodies, but it's shown their grit and will to win tight games. That could come in handy in Homecoming.
"When you're playing opponents that have had the talent the last five weeks, it does wear on you," Alkire said. "There's never any time for a letdown. Our kids have been extremely focused. On the flip side, you are battle tested. You know that when your back is against the ball, you're ready."
As for the week of practice and all the distractions that come with Homecoming, both coaches seemed optimistic about their team's preparation.
"We didn't start the best, but by Wednesday and Thursday, those were two of our better practices of the year," Hansel said. "We had communication, flying around. I feel really really good about our week of practice."
The start of the game today may tell the story. A slow Allegany start or special teams miscues — which it's had allowing two kickoff returns for touchdowns the last two weeks — and Fort Hill will capitalize.
In the end, Allegany will only have a chance to win today if its players believe.
The Campers fought tooth and nail in a 21-7 loss in the game a year ago in what was a one-score game in the fourth quarter before Tony Palmisano returned a blocked punt for a score to seal the deal.
Fort Hill's players have not seen the Sentinels lose to their crosstown rivals in their lifetimes. The Campers' standouts haven't seen their team win either.
Allegany is capable of springing the upset today, but do they believe?
"I tell them, this game doesn't matter what a coach tells you, that you can win or you should win," Hansel said. "If they don't believe it, it won't matter. It doesn't matter if you're the favorite or the underdog, you have to believe.
"I think they believe they can win."
Alex Rychwalski is a sports reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.