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Fort Hill's Zack Alkire voted Coach of the Year

Mar. 21—CUMBERLAND — For the second time in three seasons, Fort Hill's Zack Alkire has been voted Coach of the Year by the area's head coaches.

The Sentinels had an unbeaten 13-0 season, capped by a 45-21 rout of county rival Mountain Ridge for a third consecutive Class 1A state championship in three years under the head coach.

The title was Fort Hill's 10th in program history and eighth in the past 10 seasons. The Sentinels have a 130-7 record over that stretch.

Mountain Ridge's Ryan Patterson, Frankfort's Kevin Whiteman and East Hardy's Devon Orndorff also received votes for the award.

"It's a great honor," said Alkire, who is 40-2 at his alma mater. "It goes more toward your assistants. It's easy to coach games when you have a lot of great guys behind you. You're like a puppet master, and they're doing all the dirty work behind the scenes. We had some great kids to work with too.

"The kids work extremely hard. Oral traditions and old history are passed down from one generation of seniors to another, it's been this way as long as I've been here."

The 2023 Fort Hill squad will be remembered as one of the great teams in school history, with an all-senior line paving the way for fullback Jabril Daniels to have one of the greatest rushing seasons ever in this area.

Fort Hill finished the campaign ranked No. 8 in the state media poll, which includes both public and private schools, and was the third-highest-ranking for an MPSSAA team behind only Class 4A champ Wise and 3A title winner Oakdale.

Fort Hill, which has won 21 consecutive games, outscored its 12 opponents (not including a forfeit win over Southern), 386-42 — an average halftime score of 32.2-3.5.

The Sentinels were actually outscored in the second half, 95-123, because they often pulled their starters early to get younger players experience and not humiliate their opponents.

Fort Hill's defense held opponents to just 13.8 points per game.

Division 1 Fordham signee Carter Hess was named Class 1A Player of the Year by the Maryland Football Foundation and MPSSAA Defensive Player of the Year, across all classifications, by high school sportswriter Willie Sean Coughlan of Baltimore Sports and Life.

Daniels, offensive linemen Logan Vanmeter and Brayden Sines, linebacker Bryson Metz and defensive lineman Cooper Silber were also named Class 1A first-team All-State.

Daniels had a historic campaign, carrying the football 190 times for 1,826 yards and scored 34 touchdowns — breaking Ty Johnson's school record of 33 set in 2014. His 208 points also set a new school mark.

Daniels' touchdown tally tied Allegany's Karson Robinette (2017) for the city single-season record and was one off the area record of 35 set by Frankfort's Travis Lynch in 1997.

The combination of the difficult to tackle Daniels and an offensive line comprised of Hess, Vanmeter, Sines, Riley Williams and Cam Banks and tight end Metz was on full display in the state championship game.

Daniels rushed for five touchdowns and nearly 300 yards in the first half against Mountain Ridge alone — the most rushing yards ever in a half in the state championship game.

Hess anchored the defense with a team-high 145 tackles (74 solo), 13 sacks, 23 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles.

Metz also racked up 100 tackles, to go along with 11 tackles for loss, and Jaylan Atkinson stepped into the starting linebacker role alongside him and ended with 91 stops.

Fort Hill ran a five-game gauntlet to end the regular season, defeating Virginia Division 5A Briar Woods (8-4), 28-0; Mountain Ridge (11-2), 37-14; Ohio Division 1 Wadsworth (9-3), 36-35; Pennsylvania Division AAAAA New Oxford (9-2), 49-21; and Allegany (7-4), 47-21.

By the time Fort Hill returned to a 1A schedule in the postseason, it ran through the competition, routing Northern, 48-6, Havre de Grace, 57-6, and Cambridge-South Dorchester, 38-20 — a game it led 38-0 before pulling starters — to advance to another championship game.

"We knew that Mountain Ridge and Allegany would be there. In the playoffs they'd be a tough out," Alkire said. "The way that we scheduled, playing tougher opponents that we did, if we got through that regular season schedule without injuries, you'd have an opportunity to make a run.

"Because of the talent we played in regular season, we were prepared come playoffs. We saw it all. We saw teams under center, option, throw-first teams, power guys, speed guys, big lines, fast lines."

The difficult slate forced Fort Hill to expand its offense, particularly against Wadsworth, where the Sentinels needed to operate out of the Wing-T, shotgun and I-formation to pull off a stunning upset.

"One of the great things about my coaching staff is they're very flexible," Alkire said. "We've really tried to keep a lot of the traditional things that we've always done but tried to incorporate our own flairs to it.

"We're willing to try new things. Sometimes we show up to practice on Monday with a game-plan we really like, and by Monday evening we're trying to fix it.

"Knowing personnel, knowing your kids and what they can and can't do, it's gone a long way."

That triumph over Wadsworth showed the maturation of senior quarterback Deshaun Brown, who orchestrated a game-winning 92-yard touchdown drive. In his first year playing quarterback at the high school level, Brown completed 37 of 58 passes for 788 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions.

While Fort Hill loses all of its production in the trenches, it brings back most of its skill position guys.

Steven Spencer (291 yards, 3 TDs) was Fort Hill's lone senior in the backfield. Freshman Carson Bender (598 yards, 6 TDs), junior Tristan Ross (426 yards, 6 TDs), junior Nick Willison (241 yards, 2 TDs) and sophomore Braelyn Younger (223 yards, 3 TDs) all return along with Daniels.

"The seniors set the tone, our underclassmen knew their role and stuck to it," Alkire said. "They wanted more, but they understood that their part of the game-plan was to help the overall team. That goes back on those seniors.

"The seniors knew what they had to do and set the tone for those guys to look up to."

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