OZONA – Trailing by six points at halftime, the May defense clamped down on the Leakey offense, while Kaden Halk ran wild during the final two quarters en route to a 72-38 Class A Division I Region IV championship victory for the Tigers here Friday night.
May is one victory away from its first state championship game appearance since 2014, as the Tigers will advance to face Region III champion and reigning state champion Blum (9-3) – a 62-50 winner over No. 9 Union Hill (11-1) Friday night – in the state semifinals. The winner will advance to state at AT&T Stadium in Arlington Dec. 16. May already owns a 74-28 road victory over Blum this season, that occurring Sept. 25.
“This means a lot,” said May 17th-year head coach Craig Steele, looking to guide the Tigers to their third state title game during his tenure. “We got sick and tired of getting beat in the second round, and even the third round three years ago. This is back where we want to be, it’s our goal every year. We have a chance now, being in the final four.”
After yielding five touchdowns and 303 yards of total offense in the first half, May (12-1) – which was allowing just 15 points per game on average – surrendered a mere 68 yards and no points to Leakey (11-2) over the final two quarters, while also recording three of its four interceptions.
“We had the right game plan coming in, we just didn’t do a very good job of executing it in the first half,” Steele said. “The second half, we actually executed what we had been practicing all week, and our tackling was a whole lot better. Our spread rush on Hunter Williams was really great tonight, he’s an awesome player. But Hayden King and Chris Flenniken, along with Brian Kunkel when he was out in there, they did a great job rushing.”
Offensively, the Tigers churned out 544 yards of total offense, with 310 coming in the second half, and 477 of those total yards churned out on the ground. Halk led the charge with 337 yards and seven touchdown on just 16 carries.
“He had a heck of a night,” Steele said of Halk’s performance. “The way their defense was off centered it lent itself to running to the left side, so that’s what we did. They couldn’t stop it so we kept on doing it.”
Rory Bustamante chipped in 116 yards and a score on the ground, Hayden King added a short rushing touchdown, and Blake Harrell accounted for 46 of May’s 67 yards through the air, including a 47-yard scoring strike to Halk.
Still down 38-32 after failing to produce points on their first drive of the second half, the Tigers completely flipped the momentum of the contest with Leakey marching toward a two-score advantage.
On second-and-15 from the May 23 with 6:59 left in the third period, Leakey’s Roger Garcia hurled a pass toward Williams near the goal line, but Halk made a leaping interception to thwart the threat and give the Tigers the ball at the 2 yard line.
“I was picturing Deion Sanders in my head saying when the ball’s in the air it’s yours, so when I saw that ball I said it was mine and just went up and got it,” Halk said.
From that point on, the game belonged to May.
The Tigers traveled 78 yards in seven plays with Halk – who rushed for 251 yards in the second half alone – capping the march with a 41-yard touchdown run. A two-point kick from Kaysen King gave May the lead for good, 40-38, with 3:51 left in the third quarter.
After converting just 1 of 5 two-point kicks in the first half – which is part of the reason why May trailed at halftime – the Tigers drilled 4 of 5 in the second half.
“I’m walking out after halftime and my dad stops me and said, ‘Hey if you’ll just scoot the tee up a little bit they can’t make that curve and block the kick,’” Steele said of the early kicking woes. “So we tried moving it up, nothing else was working, and by gosh it worked. I owe my dad a debt of gratitude for a lot of things, but specifically the two-point conversions tonight, that was his idea.”
Back in front by two points, May forced a three-and-out and Leakey’s only punt of the night after the Eagles lost 9 yards on the possession. Three plays later, the Tigers were back in the end zone on a 43-yard Halk sprint, and May owned a two-possession lead, 48-38, with 48 seconds left in the third quarter.
May’s lead increased to 50-38 on a safety on the first play of the fourth quarter as a Leakey snap sailed over the punter’s head after the Eagles lost 24 yards during the possession.
Three plays later, with 8:24 left in the contest, Halk essentially put the game away with 48-yard scoring sprint that stretched the advantage to three scores, 56-38.
The Tigers weren’t done, however, as an interception by Aaron McGinn set up Hayden King’s 4-yard touchdown run, which padded the cushion to 64-38 with 6:36 left.
Then, after the May defense turned away Leakey on fourth-and-goal from the Tiger 7, Halk put a bow on the scoring with 3:56 left on a 73-yard gallop to the end zone for the final 34-point margin.
“I feel like I’m faster than anybody on this field so I was just hitting the sideline and going every time,” Halk said.
As for moving on the state semifinals, Halk said, “That’s pretty crazy, I never expected to go this far in the playoffs in my life honestly.”
Bustamante later collected an interception on Leakey’s final play of the contest.
In the first half, the teams traded touchdowns.
Leakey struck first as Williams – who rushed for 101 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 174 yards and another score – scored on a 7-yard carry.
May closed the gap to 8-6 on a 13-yard run by Halk, then took a 12-8 lead on a 40-yard sprint by Halk. The second May touchdown was set up by Halk’s first interception.
The Eagles regained a 16-12 lead on a 70-yard pass from Williams to Rey Rodriguez, but May was back in the lead at the end of the quarter as a 47-yard scoring toss from Harrell to Halk made the score 20-16 in favor of the Tigers.
Leakey moved ahead 24-20 on an 8-yard run by Williams, then May answered with a 43-yard touchdown carry by Bustamante.
Up 26-24, May increased its advantage to 32-24 as Halk scored on an 11-yard run at the 6:14 mark of the second quarter.
However, Leakey recorded the final two touchdown of the first half – a 10-yard run by Williams followed by a 2-yard carry by Roger Garcia with 35 seconds left – giving the Eagles a 38-32 edge at the break.
May 72, Leakey 38
SCORE BY QUARTERS
May 20 12 16 24 – 72
Leakey 16 22 0 0 – 38
L: Hunter Williams 7 run (Roger Garcia kick), 8:03. 1st
M: Kaden Halk 13 run (kick failed), 6:34, 1st
M: Halk 40 run (kick failed), 5:29, 1st
L: Rey Rodriguez 70 pass from Williams (Garcia kick), 5:14, 1st
M: Halk 47 pass from Blake Harrell (Rory Bustamante kick), 4:25, 1st
L: Williams 8 run (Garcia kick), 9:53, 2nd
M: Bustamante 43 run (kick failed), 8:50, 2nd
M: Halk 11 run (kick failed), 6:14, 2nd
L: Williams 10 run (kick failed), 4:26, 2nd
L: Garcia 2 run (Garcia kick), 0:35, 2nd
M: Halk 41 run (Kaysen King kick), 3:51, 3rd
M: Halk 43 run (K. King kick), 0:48, 3rd
M: Safety – ball snapped over punter’s head, through end zone, 9:56, 4th
M: Halk 48 run (kick failed), 8:24, 4th
M: Hayden King 4 run (K. King kick), 6:36, 4th
M: Halk 73 run (K. King kick), 3:56, 4th
First Downs 15 14
Total Offense 544 371
Rushes-Yards 34-477 28-187
Passing Yards 67 225
Comp-Att-Int 3-11-0 18-36-4
Punts 1-18.0 1-32.0
Fumbles Lost 0 0
Penalties-Yards 6-55 9-78
RUSHING: May – Kaden Halk 16-337, 7 TDs; Rory Bustamante 11-116, TD; Korbin Bass 1-11; Hayden King 2-7, TD; Isidro Salinas 2-6; Damian Salinas 1-3; Aaron McGinn 1-(-3). Leakey – Hunter Williams 15-101, 3 TDs; Roger Garcia 13-46, 1 TD.
PASSING: May – Blake Harrell 2-5-0-46; Bustamante 1-5-0-21; Chris Flenniken 0-1-0-0. Leakey– Williams 12-26-3-174, 1 TD; Garcia 3-6-1-40; Abel Montaya 3-4-0-21.
RECEIVING: May – Halk 1-47, 1 TD; Flenniken 1-21; Keith Cross 1-(-1). Leakey – Montaya 6-33; Rey Rodriguez 4-96, 1 TD; Jacob Rubio 3-64; Garcia 3-26; Michael Downum 1-6.