Jalen Cropper atoned for his first-half mistake in a big way.
The Sanger High School sophomore broke loose for a 48-yard touchdown run with 2:48 left in the game that helped seal The Bee’s Central Section eighth-ranked Apaches’ 21-19 County/Metro Athletic Conference-opening win over No. 7 Bullard on Friday at Tom Flores Stadium.
After a Miguel Garcia interception at the goal line thwarted a potential Bullard go-ahead score, Cropper, who played a handful of snaps at quarterback as a change of pace from starter Jacob Tijerina, took off on a 32-yard run to the Knights’ 48. One play later, he sprinted virtually untouched to give Sanger a two-score lead.
Cropper had fumbled a kickoff just before halftime that led to Bullard taking its only lead of the game.
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“My line made it in the beginning,” said Cropper, who rushed for 114 yards on seven carries and also caught a pass for 43 yards. “They blocked and I had daylight, then I just had to show my speed off. I’m only a sophomore, so I had to prove myself and make it happen to get that W for the team.”
Sanger (6-0, 1-0) went ahead 15-12 with 1:03 left in the third quarter on a 10-yard touchdown run by Andrew Azua.
Bullard (2-4, 0-1) came right back on its next drive and got in position to tie the score, but Brandon Simonian, who had connected for two field goals earlier, missed a 39-yarder.
A botched punt attempt on the Apaches’ next drive put the Knights in position for another failed field-goal attempt, but a roughing the kicker penalty extended the Knights’ drive.
Three plays later, Garcia ended it with his interception.
“You just have to make a big-time play in big-time moments,” Garcia said. “We wanted to finish it on defense. Our defense played well together, stepping up as a unit. And we’re only going to get better from here on out.”
Bullard would close to 21-19 on Jack Taylor’s 12-yard touchdown run, but the Knights wouldn’t run another offensive play.
“This game meant so much,” Sanger coach Chuck Shidan said. “You could tell by how hard each team played. Right from the start, it was such a hard-hitting game. Anytime you play Bullard and coach (Don) Arax, you know you are going to get their best shot.”
Bullard rode a huge momentum swing into halftime.
After Simonian’s 43-yard field goal, Cropper fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which Tyler Milburn scooped up and returned 27 yards for a 12-7 Bullard lead on the final play of the first half.
Sanger scored first, going 87 yards on 13 plays during the first possession of the game, punctuated by Cropper’s 29-yard touchdown run as the quarterback.
Bullard answered on its first possession, getting a 28-yard halfback pass from Davion Franklin to quarterback Taylor that set the stage for Simonian’s 22-yard field goal.