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May falls to Sterling City in state championship game

Stephen Garcia / Abilene Reporter-News
May running back Kaden Halk carries the ball against Sterling City.

ARLINGTON — Sterling City's perfect season is complete.

The No. 1 Eagles scored touchdowns on all nine possessions to cruise to a 68-22 win over No. 4 May in the Class 1A Division I state championship Wednesday afternoon at AT&T Stadium.

The victory gives Sterling City its first football title and capped a 15-0 campaign.

"From the first day of two-a-days until now, they've done a tremendous job and we've gotten better every week," Sterling City coach Trey Sisco said. "That's what got us to this point. We had some tough games, tough finishes, and they fought to the very end in every game. This is the payoff."

The Eagles ended the game on the first play of the third quarter on a 29-yard TD pass from Hudson Cox to Damian Calderon. Raul Sanchez's PAT kick pushed Sterling City past the threshold for the 45-point rule 23 seconds into the half.

Eagles senior Cross Knittel, the game's Offensive MVP, ran for 249 yards and four TDs, adding a 62-yard passing score on his only attempt. Cox and Calderon connected for two passing TDs as the team rolled up 461 yards of offense.

Kas Johnson and Francisco Gonzales each ran for a TD, part of 340 yards on the ground by Sterling City.

May, playing in its first state title game since consecutive trips in 2013 and 2014, couldn't find the same success offensively.

After the Tigers tied the game at 14 in the opening quarter, the Eagles scored 22 unanswered points to take control. May (13-2) came up empty on five of their last six possessions as Sterling City built a 60-22 halftime lead.

The Eagles forced two turnovers and ended three other drives on downs.

"We didn't bring our best game today. That's the best way to describe it," May coach Craig Steele said. "Our effort was there. It's just there were some plays here and there, didn't execute in a couple spots. That's what happens when you play a really good team like Sterling City."

The Tigers scored on the first play of the game on a 67-yard run by Kaden Halk. Sterling City countered with a two-play drive to tie the game at 8. It was one of five possessions in which the Eagles scored in two plays or fewer.

Leading 44-22, Sterling City delivered a gut-punch on defense.

Chance Ferguson, named Defensive MVP, forced a fumble after a 39-yard catch by Blake Harrell, and the Eagles recovered in the end zone for a touchback. Ferguson finished with nine tackles (four solo), including one for a loss.

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"I've dreamed about this since I was little," Ferguson said with a wide grin. "We've always been told this is going to be a great team. The fact that we won and I get to see all this joy on people's faces — all of my friends and family and everybody in the stands and our coach here — it's the best feeling."

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Game summary

► Turning point: Already with a defensive stop under its belt, Sterling City came up with a fourth-down interception in the first quarter. On the ensuing drive, Knittel rolled out and found Cox for a 62-yard TD pass to put the Eagles up 28-14.

► Player of the game: Cross Knittel, running back, Sterling City — Knittel looked unstoppable at times, finishing with 249 rushing yards and four TDs. He was also 1 of 1 passing for 62 yards.

"His offensive line has done a great job opening those holes," Sisco said. "He hits it so fast (that) we don't have to block for a long time."

► Key stat: The Eagles came away with TDs on all of their possessions.

► Coach Steele said: "I think (Knittel) beat us a couple of times early in the game (and) I think our kids got a little tentative, didn't attack hard enough. We were skating side to side, leaving him cutback lanes, and he took advantage of it."

► Coach Sisco said: Sterling City's 44-40 win over May in Week 2 was a catalyst for the year. "Being able to come from behind (and win), I think that propelled us going forward to have the season that we had."

► Impact: May fell to 1-5 in state championships, its only win a 42-35 result of Marathon in 1976. Sterling City won its first title in its second try after falling to Richland Springs 46-0 in 2010.