CUMBERLAND, Md.- Junior Austin Cunningham accounted for 259 yards and two touchdowns, but a Central rally came up just short in a 29-21 loss to Fort Hill (Md.), Friday night.
Central (4-2) scored the game's first touchdown, but Fort Hill (4-2) rallied with the next four scores for a 29-7 lead midway through the third quarter. The Dragons fought back with two touchdowns in the final stanza to bring the game within one score, but they were held out of their end zone on their final drive as time expired.
"We played a lot better after falling behind 29-7," Central coach Dave Baker said. "We battled back and the guys played very hard, it was just a little too late."
Cunningham completed 21-of-32 passes for 238 yards and one touchdown and ran for another 21 yards and one score to power the Dragon offense. Central, playing without its leading rusher Bradi Moore, dominated the game statistically. Central led in total offense (380-242), first downs (20-11), rushing yards (142-129), passing yards (238-113) and time of possession (26:08-21:52). In the end, a pair of big plays on offense and one big special teams play carried the Sentinels to the win.
"Austin played well for us tonight. He is an excellent football player, he makes great decisions and is hard to tackle," said Baker when asked about his quarterback. "He helped bring us back late in the game. We just didn't make it the whole way."
Central marched 76 yards on nine plays on the game's opening drive for a quick 7-0 lead. Faced with a third and 15 at their own 34, Cunningham completed a pass to Adam Frederick for 30 yards to the Fort Hill 36. Two plays later, Cunningham found Chris Brumbaugh for 17 yards to the 12. Todd Slick capped the drive with a 10-yard scoring run.
The Sentinels put an exclamation point on the end of the opening quarter as Dekari Darr scooted outside and down the home sideline for a 73-yard touchdown that tied the game at 7-7 with just 4 seconds left in the first.
Central fumbled the ball on fourth and short on its ensuing drive, and Fort Hill took advantage. Ty Mance pounced on the loose ball at the 40, and Fort Hill marched 60 yards on 13 plays for the go-ahead touchdown. Quarterback Hunter Squires completed three passes on the drive for 39 yards, including a 18-yard scoring strike to Travis Bush. Squires completed a pass to Micah May for the two-point conversion as FH led 15-7 with 3:09 left in the first half.
Mance made his second big play to open second-half action. Following off-setting penalties on the first kickoff attempt, Mance returned the second kick 85 yards for a touchdown just 14 seconds into the third quarter.
Central appeared to have an answer, driving to the Fort Hill 25-yard line. After an incompletion on third and 5, Cunningham was unable to escape the Sentinel rush and was sacked for an 8-yard loss on fourth down.
Fort Hill took a 29-7 lead when Squires found Travis Bush for a 51-yard pitch-and-catch down the visitor sideline for a touchdown and a 29-7 edge.
Central began its comeback early in the fourth quarter when the Dragons covered 59 yards on just seven plays for their second touchdown, a Cunningham 12-yard scamper.
Cunningham then threw a 29-yard scoring strike to Brumbaugh with 2:07 to play as Central trailed by just a touchdown, 29-21.
Central's defense, which held Fort Hill to just two yards of offense in the fourth quarter, came up with one final stop by holding the Sentinels to 0 yards on three plays. The ensuing punt placed Central at its 43-yard line for the game's final drive with 1:09 showing on the clock.
Following an intentional grounding call, Cunningham completed two quick passes to Brumbaugh (11 and 12 yards) to give Central a first down at the Fort Hill 47. Cunningham completed a pass to Cole Kreider for 9 yards and then ran for another 6 to give the Dragons a first down at the 32. However, Fort Hill sacked Cunningham and a spike to stop the clock brought up third down and 14 at the 36.
Following an offside call on Fort Hill with just seconds left, Central was forced into a hail mary that drew a pass interference call on the host Sentinels and one final play. However, a second pass toward the end zone was intercepted as time expired on Central's comeback.
"I thought we played really tough tonight despite the final score" Cunningham said. "It doesn't matter how I feel I played because we just want to win."
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Central7 0 0 14 - 21
Fort Hill7 8 14 0 - 29
C-Slick 10 run (Helsel kick), 7:53.
FH-Darr 73 run (King kick), 0:04.
FH-Bush 18 pass from Squires (May pass from Squires), 3:09.
FH-Mance 85 kickoff return (Squires run), 11:46.
FH-Bush 51 pass from Squires (pass failed), 6:05.
C-Cunningham 12 run (Helsel kick), 8:24.
C-Brumbaugh 29 pass from Cunningham (Helsel kick), 2:07.
RUSHING: Central-Conrath 6-89, Slick 6-23, Cunningham 16-21, Hoenstine 4-9. Fort Hill-Darr 21-132, Squires 4-18, Barnes 3-4, Elbin 3-(-13).
PASSING: Central-Cunningham 21-32-1-238, Mock 0-2-1-0, TEAM 0-1-0-0. Fort Hill-Squires 6-9-0-113.
RECEIVING: Central-Brumbaugh 4-69, Frederick 4-65, Hoenstine 3-27, Kreider 3-18, Slick 3-16, Hamm 2-24, Croft 2-19. Fort Hill-.Bush 3-79, May 1-14, Elbin 1-11, Darr 1-9
INTERCEPTIONS: Fort Hill-Mance, Shives.