MAY — The May Tigers’ regular season win streak continued following Friday’s 39-31 victory over Fort Worth THESA, but it was not without an early scare.
The THESA Riders nearly upended the Tigers who trailed for most of the game until torrential rain forced both teams to dramatically simplify their offense in the second half, where May pulled away.
“It was effort in the second half. We played with more effort and more intensity,” May head coach Craig Steele said. “We cut out some of the mental mistakes we made in the first half and that helped. This team shows a lot of potential, but we’re going to have to stop making so many mistakes. Turnovers, missed blocking assignments, the list is pretty long unfortunately.”
The Tigers (4-0) methodically worked their way downfield from the first play from scrimmage with senior Daniel Salinas capping off a lengthy drive with a rushing touchdown, the first of two on the night as he led May with 97 yards on 13 carries.
May’s offense went cold from there as the Riders were just getting warmed up, scoring touchdowns through the air on their next three possessions. With each touchdown the Riders failed to convert the conversion, which would prove costly.
“It takes a little getting used to playing with a target on your back,” Steele said. “They’re still adjusting to that. Most of the time, they’re going to get everyone’s best shot. Watching film, they see what they think is going to happen, but they don’t see the intensity the other team is going to bring when they come to play us.”
Using a split-back formation to cut off the Tigers’ pass rush, Rider took advantage of their size with quarterback 6-3 quarterback Nash Carter dumping the ball off to an awaiting receiver to turn up middle of the field. That strategy seemed to play to the Riders’ favor until hard rain tore through the area, making aerial strikes nearly impossible as the ball slickened with every falling drop. As they have done regardless of the weather, the Tigers pulled their linemen in for a more traditional formation and turned to Salinas, Gage Keckler and Rory Bustamante to carry the load.
“It was super wet and super hard to catch,” said Keckler, who scored three touchdowns with 135 all-purpose yards on 10 carries and five catches including the game winner. “I can’t explain the struggles our quarterback went through. Throwing the ball was difficult enough, but catching it at that range was hard.”
Touchdowns by Keckler and Salinas pulled the Tigers within 5 points, then an interception by Bustamante set up a 30-yard touchdown run by Bustamante as the third quarter buzzer blew, giving May a 26-25 lead.
By the start of the fourth quarter, a relatively strong drizzle evolved into torrential rain, once again foiling the Riders’ next possession. Johnston struck again the next possession, finding Keckler on a cross-body throw across on the opposite hash. Keckler secured the ball, shook off a potential tackler and trudged 8 yards through the pooling water to score the game-winning touchdown.
“We wanted it more. I knew we wanted it more,” Keckler said. “They were a pretty good team, but the difference was who wanted it more.”