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How Baylor's Nelson McKnight put name in TSSAA football championship record books

CHATTANOOGA — Nelson McKnight acknowledged his fatigue.

He was on the verge of a TSSAA football state championship record as well as making a defensive score. The Baylor senior wasn't going to stop now.

McKnight yanked the football from McCallie quarterback Jay St. Hilaire's arms and returned it a state championship record 97 yards for a touchdown Thursday night in the Division II-AAA BlueCross Bowl at Finley Stadium. But McCallie won the game 34-28 for its fourth state championship in five years.

McKnight broke the TSSAA football championship record set in 2020, when Elizabethton's Jake Roberts returned a fumble 82 yards against Haywood in the Class 4A championship.

"It's everything we work for every single week," said McKnight, who had six total tackles, with two for loss. "We come out and grind every single week. We work on plays like stripping the ball.

"He kind of just had his hands like on the sides and he had it tucked in mid-chest. I just reached both arms in on both sides of the ball and pulled it down. And then I just saw daylight."

And then he took off running across the field. Teammates helped create a convoy of defenders, who assisted by keeping away McCallie players as he started to slow down the final 10 to 20 yards.

More: Recap: McCallie's defense stands tall to win Division II-AAA TSSAA football championship

More: Why TSSAA doesn't use instant replay for football championship games while some other states do

"I was hurting a little bit," he said. "At the end I was tired, but I had to celebrate. After the celebration I was out of gas, but then I had to go back on defense. That was a lot."

Reach Tom Kreager at 615-259-8089 or tkreager@tennessean.com and on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter @Kreager.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: TSSAA football: Nelson McKnight sets state record with fumble return