DUBLIN – The May Tigers turned to their reliable defense Friday night when the Jonesboro Eagles recovered consecutive onside kicks to start the second half.
May rebounded from a shaky start to the second half to beat Jonesboro 62-16 by holding the Eagles to a season-low 16 points in their Class 1A Division I area playoff football game.
After Jonesboro pulled within 28-16 to start the second half, May regained its composure with a defensive stop and Kaden Halk’s 50-yard touchdown run. The Tigers improved to 11-1 and advance to next week’s regional championship game against Leakey.
“I got frustrated. I don’t know if that helped any or not,” veteran May coach Craig Steele said of not recovering two onside kicks to open the second half. “We talked about it at the half. We knew they were going to try to onside it. We just didn’t execute against it.”
After the first successful onside kick, Jonesboro scored on Sean Hernandez’s 6-yard run to pull within 28-16. But after the second onside kick, May’s defense got a stop when Blake Harrell tackled Brandon Nemelka for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-10 from the Tigers’ 29-yard line.
On the next play, Halk broke a 50-yard touchdown run to return the momentum to May with a 34-16 lead. Jonesboro couldn’t score again against a May defense that is allowing 15 points per game this season.
“The onside kicks were demoralizing because they (Eagles) did the same thing to us three years ago,” said Chris Flenniken, one of nine May seniors. “We had to keep our heads in the game and know the talent we have.”
Halk scored a touchdown rushing, one receiving and another on defense with a 37-yard fumble return that extended May’s lead to 48-16 with 6:36 left to play.
“We were just trying to get Kaden some space to run the ball, and he broke it for a touchdown,” Steele said. “That play helped reset the momentum for us. And Chris Flenniken’s interception was huge.”
Flenniken’s interception set up a 53-yard, seven-play drive that Hayden King finished with a 2-yard touchdown run on his only carry of the game. The score extended May’s lead to 42-16 as the fourth quarter began.
May’s Rory Bustamante rushed for 96 yards, including touchdowns of 10 and 23 yards. His 23-yard score gave the Tigers a 54-16 lead with 4:53 left. Bustamante also threw 14-yard scoring pass to Keith Cross on the final play of the first half that gave the Tigers to a 28-8 halftime lead.
After getting through the two onside kicks by allowing just eight points to Jonesboro, the May defense regained control of the game. In addition to limiting the Eagles to 16 points, the Tigers’ defense forced four turnovers, including three that were converted into touchdowns.
“When we get a stop, it makes everybody happy,” Bustamante said. “We try to have more than one person in on every tackle.”
Steele said, “They (Eagles) had been doing a good job of getting big plays out of their passing game that complemented their running game. Aaron McGinn came in and helped us out at safety against the pass. I thought we could contain their running game, but we really needed to limit their big plays in the passing game.”
Jonesboro, which finished 10-2, completed one pass over 13 yards on Friday. The Eagles got a combined 188 yards rushing from Hernandez, Nemelka and Ian Shoaf, but the Tigers’ defense limited their big plays.
Friday’s game matched two perennially strong programs that each have finished as state runners-up twice in the last eight seasons.
“I really didn’t think we could 45 them,” Steele said. “Honestly, I thought it was an evenly matched game. Our teams are very similar.”
Bustamante said, “We’re trying to make it to state. We want AT&T (Stadium, site of the UIL championships) bad. Want to win it. That’s been our goal since two-a-days.”
May 62, Jonesboro 16
Score by Quarters:
Jonesboro 0 8 8 0 — 16
May 14 14 6 28 — 62
M — Kaden Halk 15 pass from Blake Harrell (kick failed), 7:40
M — Rory Bustamante 10 run (Bustamante kick), 0:48
M — Isidro Salinas 4 run (kick failed), 2:50
J — Ian Shoaf 5 run (Manuel Torres kick), 0:58
M — Keith Cross 14 pass from Bustamante (Bustamante kick), 0:00
J — Sean Hernandez 6 run (Torres kick), 7:37
M — Halk 50 run (kick failed), 5:12
M — Hayden King 2 run (Kaysen King kick), 9:57
M — Halk 37 fumble return (kick failed), 6:36
M — Bustamante 23 run (kick failed), 4:53
M — Aaron McGinn 51 run (K. King kick), 3:58
First Downs 7 12
Rushes-Yards 37-170 23-230
Passing Yards 66 96
Total Yards 236 326
Comp-Att-Int 7-16-2 7-13-0
Punts 1-19 1-35
Fumbles-Lost 4-2 0-0
Penalties-Yards 4-30 5-40
RUSHING: Jonesboro – Ian Shoaf 7-67, Sean Hernandez 10-66, Brandon Nemelka 15-55, Tyler Wilson 2-3, Dewey Wright 1-(-)3, Team 2-(-18). May – Rory Bustamante 10-96, Kaden Halk 4-57, Aaron McGinn 1-51, Isidro Salinas 5-30, Hayden King 1-2, Damian Salinas 1-(-)1, Blake Harrell 1-(-)5.
PASSING: Jonesboro – Hernandez 6-13-1 for 39, Nemelka 1-2-0 for 27, Wright 0-1-1. May – Harrell 5-5-0 for 72, Bustamante 2-8-0 for 24.
RECEIVING: Jonesboro – Wyatt Faulkner 3-20, Nemelka 2-6, Kaleb Sanders 1-27, Wright 1-13. May – Keith Cross 2-40, Halk 2-26, Bustamante 1-12, Harrell 1-10, I. Salinas 1-8.
RECORDS: May is 11-1. Jonesboro finished 10-2.