ARLINGTON – In the first meeting on Sept. 4 between No. 1 Sterling City and No. 3 May, a 44-40 decision slipped away from the Tigers. In Wednesday’s rematch in the Class A Division I state championship game at AT&T Stadium, May couldn’t hold the momentum of a fast start as the Sterling City Eagles ran away with their first state title, 68-22.
Sterling City (15-0) finished with 461 yards of total offense and no turnovers as Offensive Player of the Game Cross Knittel rushed for 249 yards and four touchdowns and threw a 62-yard touchdown.
“We struggled stopping them today,” said May 17th-year head coach Craig Steele, who has guided the Tigers to three of the school’s six state championship game appearances. “Knittel, he’s something else. We contained him pretty well on grass at our place this year, but on turf he’s so quick.”
May (13-2) – seeking its second state title overall and first since 1977 – produced 302 yards of total offense and turned the ball over twice, while a pair of injuries in the initial 2 ½ minutes of the contest altered the Tigers approach to the remainder of the game.
Isidro Salinas – May’s second-leading tackler with 100 coming into the game – went down on the first defensive series for May. Then, on the second offensive series, Rory Bustamante – the Tigers’ leading passer with 675 yards and 13 touchdowns and second-leading rusher with 947 yards and 17 scores – re-aggravated a lower leg injury suffered in the 92-86 overtime win over Blum in the state semifinals.
“Isidro goes down a series into the game, then Rory goes down the next series,” Steele said. “We practiced without them all week, but we had hoped they would be able to have more time in the game than that. I think that affected our kids’ psyche because we needed them and we missed them. But it’s nobody’s fault, it just is what it is.”
Steele further elaborated on the loss of the two seniors.
“Isidro for three years has been a very good defensive starter for us and Rory the same,” Steele said. “Rory is a three-year starter on offense and Isidro started the last couple of years so it mattered a lot. The experience those kids have, how comfortable they are with what we’re doing, don’t get me wrong our backups are good guys that are going to be very good football players, but the comfort level is just not there for them or for us. Offensively, it really made things tough. We had to do things differently in the backfield. I had to move Blake (Harrell) around a little bit, not that Blake can’t do it, it’s just a comfort thing. Blake will be the guy next year.”
May entered the contest averaging 61 points and 347 yards per game, with 259 yards coming on the ground. But the Tigers mustered just 83 yards rushing while passing for 219 in the state final.
Kaden Halk accounted for all three May touchdowns, catching four passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns. But after rushing for 639 yards and 13 touchdowns the past two games, Halk was limited to 77 rushing yards on just six carries, with one reaching the end zone.
Harrell connected on 8 of 13 passes for 155 yards with two scoring tosses, while Bustamante – in extremely limited duty – was 2 of 5 for 54 yards. Chris Flenniken chipped in three receptions for 46 yards.
Defensively, Hayden King led May with six tackles followed Flenniken and Brian Kunkel with two apiece.
On the very first snap of the game, Halk reeled off a 67-yard touchdown run to put the Tigers up 8-0 after a Kaysen King kick just 15 seconds into the contest.
“The game started off really well and just liked I hoped it would,” Steele said. “We scored that first play and that was kind of what I was hoping and then I thought we’d be able to move the ball today.”
Sterling City answered with a two-play, 54-yard touchdown drive that ended on an 11-yard touchdown run by Francisco Gonzales. A two-point kick by Raul Sanchez evened the score at 8 just 50 seconds into the contest.
The Tigers followed with a four-and-out, and Knittel scored on a 26-yard scamper on the very next play, as May found itself playing catch up, 14-8, with 7:22 left in the first quarter.
May fired back with a 46-yard scoring toss from Harrell to Halk on a third-and-11 from the Tiger 34 with 6:46 left in the first, knotting the score at 14.
Sterling City then seized control of the contest with the next three touchdowns – a 30-yard pass from Hudson Cox to Damian Calderon with 4:20 left in the first quarter, a 62-yard toss from Knittel to Cox 14 seconds into the second period, and a 31-yard run by Knittel with 6:59 left in the half.
May’s offense turned the ball over on downs and via an interception during Sterling City’s run of 22 straight points.
Trailing 36-14, the Tigers chalked up their final touchdown on a 41-yard pass from Harrell to Halk, which closed the gap to 36-22 with 6:01 left in the half.
Sterling City tacked on three more touchdowns before the half ended on runs of 42 and 36 yards by Knittel and 63 yards by Kas Johnson.
Leading 60-22 at halftime, Sterling City received the second half kickoff and scored on the first snap – a 29-yard pass from Cox to Calderon – to end the game via 45-point mercy rule at the 9:37 mark of the third period.
Despite the loss, Steele is proud of what May accomplished in 2020 – a season like no other due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I can’t complain about the season we’ve had and the effort we’ve had from these kids,” Steele said. “The community is fantastic and supports these kids all the way. It felt good getting back, we’re just going to have win one (state game) one of these days.”
CLASS A DIVISION I STATE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Sterling City 68, May 22
SCORE BY QUARTERS
May 14 8 0 x – 22
SC 20 40 8 x – 68
MAY — Kaden Halk 67 run (Kaysen King kick), 9:45
SC — Francisco Gonzales 11 run (Raul Sanchez kick), 9:10
SC — Cross Knittel 27 run (kick failed), 7:22
MAY — Halk 46 pass from Blake Harrell (kick failed), 6:46
SC — Damian Calderon 30 pass from Hudson Cox (Sanchez kick), 4:20
SC — Cox 62 pass from Knittel (Sanchez kick), 9:46
SC — Knittel 31 run (Sanchez kick), 6:59
MAY — Halk 41 pass from Blake Harrell (King kick), 6:01
SC — Knittel 42 run (Sanchez kick), 5:07
SC — Knittel 36 run (Sanchez kick), 2:30
SC — Kas Johnson 63 run (Sanchez kick), 0:46
SC — Calderon 29 pass from Cox (Sanchez kick), 9:37
First Downs 6 11
Total Yards 302 461
Rushes-Yards 11-83 19-340
Passing Yards 219 121
Comp-Att-Int 10-18-1 3-5-0
Fumbles Lost 1 0
Penalties-Yards 1-11 3-20
Punts 0 0
RUSHING: May – Kaden Halk 6-77, TD; Rory Bustamante 2-5; Blake Harrell 2-3; Aaron McGinn 1-(-2). Sterling City – Cross Knittel 11-249, 4 TDs; Kas Johnson 3-63, TD; Francisco Gonzales 2-14, TD; Kamden Pruitt 2-7; Jarrett Justiss 1-5.
PASSING: May – Harrell 8-13-1-155, 2 TDs; Bustamante 2-5-0-64 . Sterling City – Hudson Cox 2-4-0-59, 2 TDs; Knittel 1-1-0-62, TD.
RECEIVING: May – Halk 4-104, 2 TD; Chris Flenniken 3-46; Harrell 1-50; Keith Cross 1-16; McGinn 1-3. Sterling City – Damian Calderon 2-59, 2 TDs; Cox 1-62, TD.