Tabor needed a last-minute onside kick to complete a 32-27 win over KCAC rival Friends on Saturday. The Blue Jays’ celebration was more of a sigh of relief for a team that led 32-6 in the third quarter and watched Friends chip away and nearly complete a dramatic second-half comeback.
“Down like we were, I just knew we had more in the tank,” Friends coach Monty Lewis said. “We battled back, but we waited too long. Tabor’s just too good for that.”
No. 18 Tabor (5-2, 5-1 KCAC) used a series of big plays to pull away from Friends (4-4, 3-3) early. After trading punches on a pair of scoring drives to start the game, Blue Jays junior Zack Johnson returned a kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown and a 15-6 lead.
“Zack is a playmaker. That’s what he does,” Tabor coach Mike Gardner said. “He impresses me all the time with his athletic ability. If there’s such a thing as an ‘it’ factor, he has it.”
Johnson also hauled in five receptions for 103 yards, including catches of 43 yards and 18 yards on the same 80-yard scoring drive to give Tabor a 22-6 lead.
“I’m happy we have him,” quarterback Curry Parham said. “He’s deceptive. He’ll come out slow and just blow right by you.”
Parham and fellow quarterback Keith Thomas shared time almost equally behind center and combined to throw for 175 yards on 8-of-15 passing. The pass attempts were mostly downfield, which set up the running game for success. Joseph Donnell (124 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries) and Ontreveon Cooper (49 yards and a touchdown on six carries) led a ground game that totaled 226 yards.
A 25-yard field goal from Jared Slaven gave Tabor a 25-6 halftime lead. The Blue Jays opened the second half by forcing Friends to a three-and-out, then Donnell’s 47-yard run to the 4-yard line set up Cooper for his touchdown run and a 32-6 lead.
But Friends refused to give up.
“We never felt like we were out of it, no matter what the scoreboard said,” Friends defensive end Tim Hamilton said. “We’re a well-coached team, so we just had to wake up.”
Hamilton and the defense shut out Tabor the rest of the way, while the offense found its footing. Friends rattled off 21 consecutive points on scoring drives of 75, 26 and 57 yards. The first two came thanks to a sustained running game that saw senior Jesse Rogers gobble up ground and finish with 139 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries.
But with 3:36 left and still trailing 32-20, Friends was forced to go to the air to save time. With quarterback Brennan Whitaker unavailable due to injury and top offensive lineman Mitch Butterfield hobbling around on an injured leg, Friends still managed to move the ball thanks to senior quarterback Andrew Matthews, who completed 5 of 6 passes on an 8-play, 56-yard scoring drive that ended with Matthews finding Glen Whispy on an 18-yard touchdown pass to pull within five points.
Matthews finished with 131 yards and two touchdowns on 14-of-25 passing. The final completion was enough to make it a one-score game, but an onside kick with 1:28 left bounced right into the arms of Tabor’s Matthew Chilo to keep Matthews off the field, seal the Tabor win and start the homecoming celebration.
“It’s more of a relief than anything else,” Gardner said. “I was really pleased at how we looked at times with our special teams. I think our special teams was really kind of the difference in this game.”
T – Donnell 1 run (Bowie 3 run)
F – Rogers 2 run (kick blocked)
T – Johnson 84 kick return (Slavens kick)
T – Johnson 18 pass from Thomas (Slavens kick)
T – Slavens 25 FG
T – O. Cooper 4 run (Slavens kick)
F – Matthews 4 run (Rogers 3 run)
F – Whisby 2 pass from Matthews (conversion failed)
F – Whisby 19 pass from Matthews (Nixon kick)
Rushing — Friends, Rogers 27-139, Jenkins 2-9, Trego 1-20, Matthews 9-15, English 5-14. Tabor, Donnell 19-124, O. Cooper 6-49, Thomas 6-41, D. Cooper 1-10, Parham 2-8, Valencia 1-7, Jones 1-2, Coleman 2-(-13).
Passing — Friends, Matthews 14-25-131, Rogers 0-1-0. Tabor, Parham 3-9-81, Thomas 5-6-94.
Receiving — Friends, Camp 4-38, Cron 1-7, Perry 1-8, Whisby 4-50, Rogers 2-18, Melillo 1-6, LaBarge 1-4. Tabor, Johnson 5-103, Beale 3-72.