The dream season for the Douglass football team did not come to a perfect end Saturday afternoon, as Fort Hill spoiled the No. 14 Ducks’ bid to finish undefeated with a 25-0 victory in the Class 1A state football championship at M&T Bank Stadium.
Still, the Ducks enjoyed the best season in school history with a 13-1 record. They had never won a playoff game before, much less reached the state final. Two years ago, they finished 3-7.
“I believe we set the tone,” senior running back Da’Quan Alexander said. “We went 13-0, 13-1 now, but nobody from Douglass ever did this, so no matter what, we still made history.”
In their first 13 games, the Ducks averaged 36.9 points, but Saturday, they never got their offense rolling against the Sentinels, whose running game powered a 14-0 season and the third state championship for the Cumberland school.
“My guys played hard all season,” Douglass coach Elwood Townsend said. “We didn’t want it to end like this. Two undefeated teams came to the game. One had to win. One had to lose. It’s just a tough road, but we will be back next year.”
Against a Sentinels defense that kept constant pressure on Douglass quarterback Camron West and sacked him seven times, the Ducks turned the ball over twice and reached the red zone only once the entire game. They didn’t get there until mid-way through the third quarter, and that drive ended in a turnover.
“Mr. West was very dangerous,” Fort Hill coach Todd Appel said. “He can burn you with his arms. He can burn you with his legs. We did a good job defending both today. We covered well. Our defensive line, when we weren’t sending any linebackers, got great pressure. That’s a big story of the game.”
The contest began as a defensive standoff but Fort Hill, which won its last state title in 1997, eventually took advantage of its opportunities. The Ducks did not.
On the first play of the game, West threw long for Charles Miller but the ball dropped through the receivers’ hands. Three plays later, the junior quarterback aired it out for Michael Owens, but the play was broken up. That drive seemed to set the tone for the Ducks’ offensive struggles the rest of the way.
West was 6-for-21 passing for 70 yards and two interceptions. The Ducks finished with 113 yards of total offense compared to Fort Hill’s 302, all gained on the ground despite efforts by Donte Smith, Samuel Thomas and Antwuan Johnson. Davon Monette had his third interception in two games late in the first half.
In the second half, the Ducks could not contain the Sentinels’ three-pronged running attack of Dekarai Darr, Ty Johnson and Alex Barnes, who combined to run 44 times for all 302 yards.
All three gained yardage on the Sentinels’ first scoring drive, an eight-play, 68-yard march early in the second quarter. Darr, a 5-foot-4, 170-pound back who has run for more than 1,500 yards this season, broke through for the first touchdown on a 5-yard push with 7:33 left in the second quarter.
Darr ran 22 times for 97 yards while Barnes had 12 carries for 116 yards and Johnson had 10 carries for 89 yards. They combined to score 44 touchdowns this season as the Sentinels averaged 41.4 points.
Despite minus-16 yards of total offense in the first half, the Ducks trailed only 7-0 at the break and Fort Hill went three-and-out on its first drive after halftime. Three plays into Douglass’ next drive, however, Barnes picked off West and ran 29 yards for a touchdown and a 13-0 lead less than three minutes into the half.
That was the first of three touchdowns for Barnes, who also ran into the end zone from seven and 45 yards in the fourth quarter.
Even Monette’s interception couldn’t spark the Ducks’ offense. After that turnover, they lost 18 yards — 15 on a sack — before Donyae Moody had to punt.
The Ducks started to move the ball on offense late in the second half, but in the first half they never got within 35 yards of the end zone, managing just 51 yards of total offense in the half. On the ground, Douglass gained just 13 yards on three carries while the Sentinels’ trio ran 25 times for 143 yards in the first half.
Alexander was the top Ducks rusher, finishing with 57 yards on seven carries.
Townsend and West look forward to making another title run next season.
“The school has come full circle,” said Townsend, last year’s All-Metro Coach of the Year. “We’re trying to get back to the glory days of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and I think we’ve done a good job thus far. We’ve built a foundation. Now, we’ve just got to keep moving forward.”
The Ducks will graduate 12 players from a roster of 36, while last season they lost 21 of 40.
“My guys stepped up,” the coach said. “They played wonderful all year. I’m very proud of them no matter what happened today.”
FH 0 7 6 12 -- 25
D 0 0 0 0 -- 0
FH—Darr 5 run (King kick)
FH—Barnes 29 int. return (kick failed)
FH—Barnes 7 run (pass failed)
FH—Barnes 45 run (kick failed)