Friends’ football team needed one more big play, and the player who made most of them Saturday against Southwestern was nowhere to be found.
Not only had Leonard Hankerson suffered a minor injury on his last carry, but the Falcons running back is not an option on defense no matter how much Friends wished he was.
That left it to the defense, which nearly gave away a 24-point halftime lead and was wearing down from spending the majority of the second half on the field.
Finally, though, defensive lineman Mason Pauly recovered a fumble with about a minute to go, preserving a 36-30 home victory and moving the Falcons to 2-0 in the KCAC.
Never miss a local story.
Hankerson rushed for 269 yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries as essentially Friends’ only option on offense. He and the Falcons’ defense starred in the first half, when Friends scored one defensive touchdown and nearly had another.
“We know these guys around us, they’ll come out and play their hardest,” Pauly said of the defense. “They’ll put you in the right position and go as hard as you do. They’ll repay you for the work you do.”
Friends had two turnovers on downs and a 1-yard drive that ended in a field goal before all facets of its game came together at once. Hankerson had little to show for his first four carries, but he started the Falcons’ fourth series with 28 yards on three carries.
That drive ended in a missed field goal, but Friends scored five times in less than six minutes late in the first half. Two Hankerson touchdown runs served as bookends for Carlos Cox’s 52-yard fumble recovery, and Friends recorded a safety and a Jesse Rogers touchdown run to go ahead 30-6 at half.
Hankerson’s second score of the first half came one play after a Sequente Marks interception return for a touchdown by Sequente Marks was nullified on an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Friends’ 27 second-quarter points came in a span of six offensive plays by the Falcons.
“I just had to be patient,” Hankerson said. “I had to trust my offensive linemen that they would open up the holes and I would get through the middle.”
Hankerson became Friends’ only dimension on offense. The Falcons threw four passes in the second half, all incomplete, and didn’t find another rushing option until dual-threat James Bauer took over at quarterback for one series.
The Friends defense stopped making big plays in the second half, allowing Southwestern to rally. Quarterback Brady May spurred the comeback in the fourth quarter as he completed 16 of 41 passes for 231 yards but led two touchdown drives in the fourth, including one after Southwestern recovered an onside kick.
The Moundbuilders had the ball for most of the final seven minutes and played a hurry-up style that further fatigued Friends’ defense before the Falcons came up with one more game breaker.
Casey Baleil forced the fumble and Pauly swarmed it as the Falcons stopped Southwestern beyond midfield to save the outcome.
“We continued to play,” Friends coach Monty Lewis said. “We made the plays we needed to win the game.”
F – Nixon 35 FG
S – Pullen 1 run (kick failed)
F –Hankerson 24 run (kick failed)
F –Cox 52 fumble return (pass failed)
F –Hankerson 30 run (run failed)
F –Safety (ball knocked through back of end zone)
F –Rogers 32 run (Nixon kick)
S –Pullen 1 run (Mayer kick)
S –Mayer 20 FG
F –Hankerson 8 run (kick failed)
S –Marple 10 pass from May (Mayer kick)
S –Trembly 30 pass from May (Mayer kick)
Rushing –Southwestern, Pullen 18-55, Strohl 6-46, Bannister 1-4, Robertson 2-0, May 5-(-29); Friends, Hankerson 35-269, Rogers 5-46, Bauer 6-24, Racette 1-12, Taylor 1-3, Brandon 1-1, Scott 1-0, Cox 1-(-3), Hansen 5-(-7).
Passing –Southwestern, May 16-41-231-2 INT; Friends, Hansen 5-13-77-1.
Receiving –Southwestern, Vargas 6-41, Bannister 5-72, Trembly 2-59, Marple 2-16, Thompson 1-43.