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Cougars declawed

October 09, 2004|by MARK KELLER

keller@herald-mail.com

SHENANDOAH JUNCTION, W.Va. - The Fort Hill Sentinels know all about big games.

They prepare each week to take the best shots from opponents hoping to knock off the perennial powerhouse and playoff team.

Then there is Jefferson.

It's safe to say the No. 4 Cougars, the surprise team in the Tri-State area this season, haven't played a game as big as Friday's Cumberland Valley Athletic League matchup with Fort Hill in a dozen years.

That inexperience showed in the second half as the poised Sentinels bulled their way to a 28-7 victory over the Cougars, who saw their five-game winning streak snapped.

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"I think tonight you saw some of the growing pains that I've been telling people about the last couple weeks," Jefferson coach Richard Mills said. "We're still learning to win and we may have panicked tonight."

For everything that the Cougars (5-2, 1-2) did right in the first half - holding Fort Hill to a 7-0 lead at the break - there were as many miscues in the second half.

Two interceptions by quarterback Patrick Burns, blown coverages and missed tackles all led to the Cougars looking more like the Jefferson with 11 straight losing seasons and not the team that has climbed to No. 5 in the West Virginia Class AAA playoff ratings.

"Things just disintegrated in the second half," Mills said. "We started to panic and they took advantage."

Kevin Page ran for 202 yards and a pair of second-half touchdowns for the Sentinels (6-0, 3-0), who are ranked 20th in the Maryland state poll.

Page, who became the Sentinels' first offensive option when running back Andre Pope injured his knee, also helped set up the other two Fort Hill scores with long runs, beating the Cougars to the corners and outrunning defenders.

"Kevin doesn't have the size and strength that Andre does, but he's very close in speed," Fort Hill coach Barry Lattimer said. "He's shouldered some of the load and Josh Root has shouldered some of the load at fullback."

Root got the Sentinels on the board in the first quarter. After a 45-yard run by Page moved the ball deep inside Jefferson territory, Root burst through the middle of the line for a 7-yard touchdown run.

Jefferson drove into Fort Hill territory four times in the first half but came up empty each time. Burns threw two interceptions in the second quarter, bringing promising drives to screeching halts.

Fort Hill took a 14-0 lead midway through the third quarter on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Branden Giffin to Cory Garver.

Following Burns' fourth interception of the night, Page broke free on a sweep for a 52-yard score. A two-point conversion gave the Sentinels a 22-0 edge.

Page's speed again proved too much for the Cougars in the fourth as he took a pitch to the right and made a nifty cutback for a 17-yard score and a 28-0 lead.

Jefferson's Ryland Newman scored on a 10-yard run with 2:08 remaining to break up the Sentinels' shutout bid.

"When you play one of the top teams in Maryland, you better be on your best game and I'm not sure we were tonight," Mills said. "They're just a better team. They know how to pick things apart.

"But we're making major strides. That's what we're working toward."

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