No. 1 Fort Hill steamrolls Northern, 35-0

Sep. 3—CUMBERLAND — Fort Hill's newcomers in the backfield were as advertised Saturday, but the Sentinels' line play stole the show against Northern.

The Sentinels offensive line of all seniors — led by returners Carter Hess, Brayden Sines and Logan Vanmeter — created gaping holes that allowed their backs to rush for more than 10 yards a carry.

Their defensive line, anchored by Hess, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, suffocated Northern, limiting it to just 75 yards on 33 carries — and 20 yards on 19 totes against the Sentinel starters.

After an up-and-down lead-up to the season, No. 1 Fort Hill delivered when it counted, steamrolling an overmatched Northern, 35-0, in its opener.

"The team came out with a lot of fire," Fort Hill head coach Zack Alkire said. "I was worried coming into the game based on our play in the preseason, I thought we were pretty flat, but the guys showed a lot more emotion tonight."

Fort Hill, the two-time defending Class 1A state champion, recorded its first shutout to open the season since 2016 when it routed Brunswick, 73-0, on the road.

It was a comprehensive effort for the Sentinels, who scored on all six of their first-half drives with the exception of their first — which ended on a fumble in Northern territory.

Fort Hill led 14-0 after the first quarter and 35-0 at the half.

The Sentinels' starters didn't play the second half with a running clock. With the starters in, Fort Hill held a 14-3 edge in first downs and 307-93 advantage in total offense.

"We knew it was going to be tough to come down and beat these guys, but we wanted to do more positive things than we did," Northern head coach Phil Carr said. "I'm upset with the penalties that we had in that first half. ... The self-inflicted mistakes.

"But we also just got out-physicaled. They're just bigger, faster and stronger at a lot of positions."

The Sentinels lost more than 3,000 yards and 40 touchdowns from last year's championship squad, but its new quarterback, Deshaun Brown, showed flashes of brilliance with his arm and his legs.

Brown completed all four of his passes for 96 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown to Jabril Daniels (11:34 left, second quarter) and a 26-yard score to Braelyn Younger (1:07 left, first quarter).

"Deshaun is really exciting," Alkire said. "Really electrifying. He came over at the end of the second quarter and had a big old smile on his face and says, 'Hey coach, how am I doing?' A-plus game, great job. ... I still think we need to work on his reads a little."

Daniels, who emerged as a go-to option during the 2022 postseason, accounted for the Sentinels' opening touchdown, a 26-yard scamper with 3:34 to play in the first period. He was Fort Hill's leading rusher with 94 yards on six carries and caught two balls for a game-high 62 yards.

Like Daniels, Younger scored a touchdown on the ground as well as in the air, finding pay-dirt from 25 yards out with 9:40 to play in the first half. He had 41 yards on two carries.

Freshman Carson Bender capped the Fort Hill scoring with a five-yard TD 4:34 before the halftime whistle.

Junior Nick Willison was second on Fort Hill with 88 yards on seven carries, rushing for 83 yards after halftime. Gavin Carney completed 1 of 2 passes for 20 yards filling in for Brown after the break.

Fort Hill finished with 316 yards on 29 carries — with not one inch coming from someone who touched the ball in the Sentinels' 2022 opener.

"The offensive and defensive line is going to be the strength of our team this year," Alkire said. "It's very senior-laden. We have lots of strong kids. ... We play a lot of younger kids everywhere else, but because we have that strength, it'll allow the younger guys to catch up."

Northern running back Kyle Broadwater gave a warrior effort in defeat, rushing for 76 yards on 20 bruising carries. Known more for his speed, Broadwater, along with quarterback Liam Stewart, were frequently hit in the backfield.

On one such occasion, Willison got behind the line of scrimmage on a run play that he ripped the ball out on a handoff.

When Northern did get to the outside, the Sentinels' linebackers, led by All-Area first-teamer Bryson Metz, swarmed to the football.

"We could not run any of our offensive stuff because to play option offense, you need to be playing on their side of the football, and we couldn't," Carr said. "Everything was in our backfield."

Fort Hill kicker Cooper Silber made all five of his extra points in the first half. The Sentinels' backup kicker missed a 34-yard field goal after halftime.

The Sentinels are also replacing all three of their All-Area defensive backs from last year, and their inexperienced replacements were called for a pair of pass interference penalties in the opener.

However, when Fort Hill's secondary played clean, it was effective, limiting Stewart to just 3 of 9 passing for 18 yards.

Fort Hill running back Tristan Ross, a projected starter, was unavailable Saturday and his status is unknown.

The Sentinels (1-0) will look to remain unbeaten when they host Calvin Coolidge, D.C. (0-2), on Friday night. Northern (0-1) is at Albert Gallatin (0-2) on Friday.

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