It was the Cross Knittel show to open the week of state championships at AT&T Stadium.
Knittel rushed for 249 yards and four touchdowns and added a 62-yard passing touchdown as Sterling City ran away from May to capture its first-ever state title in a 68-22 victory.
“Our blocking was tremendous this afternoon. I just read them good and just tried not to get tackled the whole game,” Knittel said.
Knittel was deservedly named Offensive MVP as the Tigers struggled to stop him all night long.
“It’s unbelievable. He has been our workhorse all year long. He’s done a tremendous job. I’m so proud of him and his effort today,”
Sterling City head coach Trey Sisco said.
“His offensive line has done a great job opening those holes and he hits it so fast, we don’t have to block for a long time which helps out a lot.”
May kept up with Sterling City early, but a massive momentum swing took place in the second quarter as Sterling City outscored May 40-8 and went into halftime up 60-22. That allowed the Eagles to secure the victory just one play into the second half as Eagle quarterback Hudson Cox hit Damian Calderon across the middle for a 29-yard score. Raul Sanchez then stepped up and converted the point after, giving Sterling City the 45-point threshold it needed to evoke six-man football’s mercy rule.
“I’m just so proud of these kids and how hard they’ve worked all year,”
“From the first day of two-a-days till now, they’ve done a tremendous job and we’ve gotten better every week. That’s what got us to this point. They fought to the very end in every game and this is the payoff.”
The game got off to a quick start. May running back Kaden Half took a pitch on the first play from scrimmage and raced away for a 67-yard score to put the Tigers up 8-0. It would be the only lead they held all night.
“We weren’t lined up correctly,”
Sisco said of that play.
“It was the first moment of the game, and I think we still had a few jitters. But we got that fixed real quick after that happened.”
Those adjustments proved effective as Halk was held to just 77 yards rushing on the game.
The Eagles quickly answered that opening score as Knittel opened the next possession with a 43-yard run before Francisco Gonzales took the second play from scrimmage for the Eagles in for an 11-yard touchdown run to knot the game at eight just 50 seconds in.
Then following a turnover on downs by May, Knittel gave Sterling City its first lead of the night, 14-8, on a 27-yard touchdown run with just over seven minutes to go in the first.
May had an answer on its ensuing possession as Blake Harrell hit Halk on a wheel route on third-and-eleven for a 46-yard score up the sidelines to even proceedings at 14.
However, May couldn’t stop the Eagles all night and that allowed Sterling City to slowly pull away. On Sterling City’s third drive of the game, Eagle quarterback Hudson Cox hit Damian Calderon down the sideline for a 30-yard score to give Sterling City a 20-14 advantage with four minutes to go in the first quarter.
After that, the first turnover of the game was the beginning of the end for May as the Eagles began to lengthen their advantage. Harrell looked for Halk again down the sideline on a fourth down for the Tigers, but this time it was picked off by Sterling City defender Jarrett Justiss.
Knittel and the Eagles took full advantage of that turnover on the ensuing drive as Knittel hit Cox on a short pass. Cox did the rest after that, turning and sprinting away for a 62-yard touchdown to put Sterling City up 28-14 with the first play of the second quarter.
Knittel and Halk traded touchdowns again after that as a 31-yard run by Knittel was countered by a 41-yard touchdown reception by Halk on a pinpoint pass from Blake Harrell.
Then after a 42-yard touchdown run by Knittel that put the Eagles up 44-22, Sterling City came up with the crushing blow. May looked to have come up with a perfect play as Harrell pitched the ball to Rory Bustamante who threw it back to Harrell in plenty of space. However, just as Harrell was about to reach the end zone, Eagle defender Chance Ferguson came up behind him and punched the ball free, forcing a game-changing turnover.
“He didn’t change the ball to the hand near the sideline and as soon as I saw that, I knew I needed to punch this,” Ferguson said. “I did it as hard as I could. It’s the only thing I really could do, and I sent the ball flying. Luckily, Hudson [Cox] was behind me and was able to recover, and I think it was the best play of my life to be honest.”
From there, a highlight-reel 36-yard touchdown run by Knittel, where he evaded several Tiger defenders on fourth and 17, and a 63-yard touchdown by Kas Johnson put the Eagles on the brink of the mercy rule and their first state title before Cox and Calderon finished the game off to start the second half.
“We didn’t bring our best game today that would be the best way to describe it,”
May head coach Craig Steele said.
“Our effort was there. We missed some plays here or there and didn’t execute in a couple spots. That’s what happens when you play a very good team like Sterling City.”
For May, this game was the final one for several key seniors including Rory Bustamante and Hayden King.
“It’s going to be tough losing those guys (seniors). Hopefully our young guys have soaked up their knowledge and the way they comport themselves. Some really good kids,”
“It’s been a tough year with COVID and these kids battled their tails off to get to this point. I hate that ended for them like this. It hurts my heart.”
For Sterling City, the Eagles get to celebrate a perfect 15-0 season and their school’s first ever state title.
“I’ve dreamed about this since I was little,”
“The fact that we won and that I get to see all this joy on people’s faces, all my friends and family and everybody in the stands. It’s the best feeling.”