The dream was to bring home a first-ever national title and send retiring coach Mike Piha out as a winner. That's what the Palo Alto Knights' Jr. Midgets were hoping to do this week at the American Youth Football National Championships in Kissimmee, Fla.
That dream, however, ended in a 25-16 first-round loss to the Forest Park Blackhawks of Baltimore on Sunday.
The Knights recovered an opening onside kick and marched to the 12-yard line, missed a fourth-and 4 and turning the ball over on downs. Palo Alto, however, stopped the Blackhawks and took over at the 50 -- marching down to the 8, where Ethan Stern ran it in as the Jr. Midgets took an 8-0 lead.
The Blackhawks followed with a score just as the first quarter was winding down, but the extra- point attempt was blocked by Stern. That effort, however, proved costly as Stern broke his arm in two places while blocking the attempt.
Stern was the team's leading rusher and scorer this season. Following his departure, the Knights struggled to get their running game going. They also missed his presence on defense, where he was the team's leading tackler from his linebacker position.
"Any time you lose a top performing player, it affects several aspects of the team and game plan," said Piha. "Ethan is definitely a key part of our offense and defense. However, I believe we are deep enough that we should have performed much better during the second and third quarters."
The Knights trailed at halftime, 12-8, but fought hard in the fourth quarter to bring the score within nine points as Jordan Schilling scored on a pass from Jake Rittman.
While the loss will prevent Palo Alto from playing for a national title, there are still goals to attain.
"We still have an opportunity to finish No. 3 in the nation, which is an outstanding accomplishment for these players," Piha said.
The Knights next will play on Tuesday against the Detroit Dolphins for the opportunity to advance to the third-place game on Thursday.