ARLINGTON – After the game’s first play, the raucous atmosphere at AT&T Stadium for the Class 6A Division I state championship was subdued.
By game’s end, that same crowd had just witnessed one of the best championship games in Texas high school football history.
Senior Brock Sturges rushed for 177 yards and three touchdowns, and the Eagle defense forced three turnovers as Allen won its’ fifth state championship in 10 years, narrowly edging Lake Travis, 35-33, in a game that evolved into an instant classic between two Texas heavyweights.
Allen officially ended the season undefeated, posting a 16-0 record that included wins over some of the best teams in the state
Hudson Card threw for 223 yards and a touchdown and ran for 74 yards in place of injured quarterback Matthew Baldwin, who reinjured his knee on the game’s first play.
Allen led, 35-33, and faced a fourth-and-1 from near midfield with eight minutes remaining in the game. Junior quarterback Grant Tisdale snapped the ball and turned to hand off to Juwan Robinson, but the play was whistled by the referee for a false start penalty, and Allen was forced to punt.
Lake Travis then drove into Allen territory, aided by a 15-yard pass interference penalty against Jevon Jones. On third down, Card threw a deep pass down the sideline to Garret Wilson that was intercepted by a diving Taj Bickham.
With possession and under six minutes to play, Allen leaned on Sturges, who broke the Allen single-season rushing record with his performance in the game. The Eagle running game, so good for four quarters, killed the clock – and Lake Travis’ title hopes.
“That was a personal goal for me before the season started, and I’m glad to get that on top of this gold medal right here,” Sturges said. “I knew I had the best offensive line in the state in front of me, and I just kept telling them I was with them, that I wouldn’t be here without them.”
“There’s a lot of ‘me’ in sports these days, and I think our team did a great job all day maintaining our game plan, which is to lean on everyone,” said Terry Gambill, Allen head coach. “It’s a team game – coaches aren’t going to call a perfect game. Today, this was a true team win.”
The game started on a sour note, as one of the state’s best players immediately went down with an injury.
Baldwin, Lake Travis’ senior quarterback and an Ohio State-pledge, collapsed on the game’s first play, dropping the ball and immediately grabbing his leg, which he hurt in the state semifinal against Katy. Allen’s Jayden Jernigan picked up the loose ball and ran it in for a touchdown, and Baldwin stayed motionless on the field.
He was eventually able to limp off the field with the help of two trainers, but he did not return to the game. AT&T Stadium, shaking before kickoff due to the 41,000 fans in attendance, was suddenly silenced.
Enter Card, Lake Travis’ sophomore backup quarterback and Baldwin’s no. 2 receiver.
Card, who has offers from Arkansas and TCU to play quarterback, filled in more than admirably for Baldwin, amassing 176 yards in the first half and rushing for a touchdown that brought Lake Travis to within seven points in the second quarter. And with his nerves firmly under control, he excelled in the second half, accounting for more than 100 yards and a touchdown in the final two frames.
“[Losing Baldwin] hurt us and set us back for sure, but we got our feet under us and started playing a lot better,” said Hank Carter, Lake Travis head coach.”Our guys are mentally tough. That’s something that gets developed over a long season – we’ve gotten in tough situations before and we knew how to come out of it.
“We felt like we could have won the ballgame, but we just didn’t make enough stops on defense.”
“For him to come into this game and have all that pressure, I thought he did a great job,” Baldwin said. “He’s only 16 and has a chance to be one of the best quarterbacks to ever come through Lake Travis.”
Lake Travis trailed by 17 to Converse Judson earlier in the playoffs and came back to win, and Nathan Parodi said the team had that in the back of their mind when trailing, 21-0.
“We knew that just one play could get us back into it,” he said.
On the other side of the ball, so dominant was Allen’s running game that Tisdale threw only seven times for 30 yards. Like Sturges, the junior signal caller made an impact with his legs, rushing for 79 yards and a touchdown.
The 2017 title entrenches Allen firmly in the conversation of Texas’ top high school football programs, joining Katy (eight state titles in the last 10 years) and Lake Travis (seven) as schools with at least five state championships in the past decade. Allen also joins Carthage, Ennis, Stamford, Stephenville, Mart, La Marque, Sonora, Sealy and Fort Hancock as schools that have won five Texas state titles.
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