May Tigers reload for another run at state title

Mike Lee
Special to the Bulletin
May junior Kaken Halk evades a tackle against Blum.

What do you do when your six-man football team advanced all the way to the state championship game the previous season but lost nine seniors?

“You reload and try to do it again,” said 18-year May coach Craig Steele, who has three state runner-up finishes and a 144-56 record with the Class 1A Division I Tigers.

“Our first goal every year is to win district. Then, we want to make sure we’re playing (in the postseason) on Thanksgiving weekend. That always gives us a chance.

“In our division, the state is more wide open than it has been. There are a lot of teams that could be there this year, and we’re one of them,” Steele said.

May went 13-0 against the rest of the state last year, but 0-2 against Sterling City – which beat the Tigers 44-40 during the regular season and 68-22 in the Class 1A DI state championship game. The title game was tough on the Tigers because they allowed 40 points in the second quarter alone, and the game ended via the 45-point rule on the first play of the second half.

“Now the kids’ goal this year, they want to get back to state and win this time,” Steele said. “A lot would have to go right for us for that to happen. We just have to keep the kids grounded along the way. That last game last year left a bad taste in their mouth.

“People tell me, ‘At least you got there.’ And they’re right. But the way that game went, it was just a hard pill to swallow.”

May's Kaden Halk celebrates with an assistant coach after the Tigers defeated Blum 92-86 in overtime of their Class 1A Division I state semifinal in 2020.

May has four returnees who gained significant varsity experience from last year – starting with running back Kaden Halk. The 6-0, 175-pound junior got only 10 carries during district when May’s games rarely extended much beyond halftime because of the 45-point rule. But in the playoffs, Halk exploded as injuries to two senior running backs gave him an opportunity.

Halk rushed for 337 yards and scored seven touchdowns in May’s 72-38 win over Leakey in the state quarterfinals. He followed that with 302 yards and seven TDs in May’s 92-86 overtime win over Blum in the state semifinals. A majority of Halk’s 1,200 yards rushing last season came during the playoffs.

“We knew Kaden was a good running back, but we spread the carries around during the regular season,” Steele said. “When the two other backs went down in the playoffs, Kaden got more carries and he made it count. Our offensive line did a phenomenal job, and when Kaden hits a seam, he can go from a jog to full speed in one step.”

Blum's Braden Horn tries to make a catch as May's Blake Harrell defends.

Blake Harrell, a 5-foot-8, 200-pound senior and last year’s quarterback, is moving to running back. Junior Luke McKenzie (6-1, 179) is scheduled to take over at quarterback. Senior Brian Kunkel (6-0, 190), another player with varsity experience, is the projected starter at center.

Senior Kaysen King (5-11, 185) is ready to start at end after playing on the JV for three years. “We brought Kaysen up for the playoffs to kick, so he’s been through the pressure of a playoff game,” Steele said.

The other end will be either junior Bryson Guerrero or sophomore Cade Lindley.

On defense, Halk returns in the secondary, and McKenzie and junior letterman Damian Salinas (5-8, 163) figure to join Halk. Four players – King, Kunkel, Harrell and Lindley – are in the mix at middle linebacker and defensive end.

“We’re going to have a lot of players up from the JV, so there’s going to be a learning curve,” Steele said. “It’s going to take us longer to get where we want to be, but I feel like we’ll get there. The kids up from the JV are solid, and they’ve been in our system for a long time. We feel like they’ll do OK.”

Despite losing nine seniors, May drew a No. 3 preseason statewide ranking by The Tigers’ new starters will be thrown to the wolves immediately with a season opener against No. 2-ranked Borden County and the next game against No. 1-ranked and defending state champion Sterling City.

“We’ll get tested quickly. The earlier, the better,” Steele said. “As long as we stay healthy, I think the tough schedule will speed up our improvement.”

2021 May football schedule

Date                Opponent                                           Time

Aug. 27           Borden County, at Jayton                   6 p.m.

Sept. 3             at Sterling City                                   7:30 p.m.

Sept. 10           Knox City                                           7:30 p.m.

Sept. 17           at Evant                                               7:30 p.m.

Sept. 24           Blum                                                   7:30 p.m.

Oct. 1              Newcastle                                           7:30 p.m.

Oct. 8              Gorman*                                             7:30 p.m.

Oct. 15            at Santa Anna*                                    7:30 p.m.

Oct. 22            Baird*                                                 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 29            Open

Nov. 5             at Lingleville*                                     7:30 p.m.

*District 13-1A Division I games