No. 1 May Tigers survive Abbott, advance to 1A DI state football finals
DUBLIN – The May Tigers were behind for the first time in the fourth quarter this football season, and two of their running backs, Kaden Halk and Blake Harrell, were playing at less than 100 percent because of injuries.
So the Tigers turned to their third running back, and Avery Williford helped deliver a hard-earned 50-48 over the 19-point underdog Abbott Panthers on Saturday night in the Class 1A Division I state semifinals.
After May fell behind 40-36 with 7:46 to play, Williford finished an eight-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run that gave the lead back to the Tigers at 44-40 with four minutes left.
Following a defensive stop, Williford added a 21-yard touchdown run that gave May a 50-40 lead with 1:45 left and secured the Tigers’ fourth berth in the state championship game in the last nine years.
May (14-0) advanced to play Westbrook in the Class 1A Division I state championship game scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 15, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Under current head coach Craig Steele, the Tigers have finished as the state runner-up in 2013, 2014 and 2020. May is seeking its second state championship overall; its first came 44 years ago in 1977.
“We haven’t been behind in the fourth quarter all year. I’m proud of the kids for being ready for that moment,” Steele said of his Tigers responding to the 40-36 deficit. “We just needed to run the ball. They (Panthers) had confused our offensive line some with their slants and stunts. We just needed to run the ball downhill for 4 or 5 yards and stay ahead of the chains.”
The problem was that Halk and Harrell were both playing at less than full strength. Williford, however, was ready.
“When a kid comes to you on the sideline and tells you, ‘Give me the ball,’ you know he wants it,” Steele said of Williford, the celebrated, 190-pound senior transfer from Brookesmith. “The kid felt like he could get it done, so we went with him.”
Williford caught an 11-yard pass from Harrell to start the go-ahead drive. Williford gained the final 11 yards on the drive with three straight-ahead runs. Williford rushed for 104 of his 141 yards in the second half and scored all three May touchdowns after halftime on runs of 28, 1 and 21 yards.
“Yes sir, I asked for the ball,” Williford confirmed. “I knew those guys (Halk and Harrell) were hurting. I knew I had to try and take over. It turned out to go my way. I like power running – all the way to the end zone.”
As for Abbott, which finished 13-1, Williford said: “They are fast and they are well coached.”
Much of Abbott’s speed came from running back Robert Munoz, who rushed for a game-high 246 yards, including touchdowns of 49, 47, 61 and 38 yards. Munoz finished with 246 of Abbott’s 276 total yards.
“He was slippery. You had to get ahold of him before he got going,” Williford said of Munoz. Williford also led May’s defense with two sacks, another tackle for loss and a fumble recovery.
May uncharacteristically lost two fumbles in the second half that Abbott converted into two touchdowns. The Panthers also converted a defensive stop into a score on their way to almost pulling off a considerable upset.
“They came to play,” Steele said of Abbott. “They didn’t make many mistakes, and they tackled well. Their safety, No. 7 (Karsyn Johnson) did a heck of a job. He made several tackles that prevented us from scoring touchdowns.”
Isaiah Singleton, a 215-pound junior, gave Abbott its 40-36 lead with a 16-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-4. Even after the Tigers rallied for their 50-40 lead, the outcome wasn’t completely secure as Munoz broke a 38-yard touchdown run that pulled the Panthers within 50-48 with 1:13 left.
May’s Bryson Guerrero recovered the ensuing onside kick, and Williford’s 4-yard run on third-and-2 finally gave the Tigers their hard-earned win.
“We did what we needed to do,” said Damian Salinas, a two-way starter for May. “We didn’t play our best game, but it ended the way we wanted it.”
May 50, Abbott 48
Score by Quarters:
May 22 8 6 14 — 50
Abbott 8 8 16 16 — 48
MAY — Kaden Halk 42 run (Kaysen King kick), 8:44
ABB — Robert Munoz 49 run (Paxton Pustejovsky kick), 9:27
MAY — Halk 5 run (King kick), 3:05
MAY — Avery Williford 46 pass from Blake Harrell (kick failed), 0:00
ABB — Munoz 47 run (Pustejovsky kick), 9:11
MAY — Halk 31 run (King kick), 7:02
ABB — Riley Sustala 15 run (Pustejovsky kick), 3:34
MAY — Williford 28 run (kick failed), 2:53
ABB — Munoz 61 run (Pustejovsky kick), 1:01
ABB — Isaiah Singleton 16 run (Pustejovsky kick), 7:46
MAY — Williford 1 run (King kick), 4:00
MAY — Williford 21 run (kick failed), 1:45
ABB — Munoz 38 run (Pustejovsky kick), 1:13
First Downs 17 7
Rushes-Yards 49-329 30-275
Passing Yards 113 1
Total Yards 442 276
Comp-Att-Int 6-11-0 1-4-0
Punts 0-0 3-29
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 3-1
Penalties-Yards 3-20 4-39
RUSHING: May – Avery Williford 19-141, Kaden Halk 13-120, Blake Harrell 12-58, Braden Steele 4-12, Team 1-(-)2. Abbott – Robert Munoz 18-246, Kyle Gerik 3-27, Isaiah Singleton 2-20, Joey Pavelka 1-5, Riley Sustala 3-0, Karsyn Johnson 2-(-)15, Team 1-(-)8.
PASSING: May – Harrell 4-7-0 for 104, Luke McKenzie 2-4-0 for 9. Abbott – Johnson 1-3-0 for 1, Sustala 0-1-0.
RECEIVING: May – Williford 2-57, Halk 2-9, Kaysen King 1-37, Steele 1-10. Abbott – Pavelka 1-1.
RECORDS: May is 14-0. Abbott finished 13-1.