The tight end has become the most dangerous weapon in the Derby offense this season.
When typical starter Michael Littleton missed Friday’s showdown at Bishop Carroll, ranked No. 5 in Class 5A, senior Kenyon Tabor, who has made an oral commitment to play for Kansas, moved from his outside receiver role to tight end for the game.
Tabor showed just how dangerous a Derby tight end can be, recording eight catches for 151 yards and three touchdowns — all season highs — as No. 1-ranked Derby steamrolled Carroll in a 49-13 victory. Tabor now has 20 catches for 338 yards and seven touchdowns.
“With what we do with our tight end, they’re open almost every play,” Tabor said. “I was at tight end tonight and I was open almost every play.”
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Tabor’s natural ability in his 6-foot-4 frame make him a threat from anywhere, but the middle of the field — typically where tight ends run their routes — has been especially open this season because of the work by the offensive line and running back Brody Kooser.
When Kooser gashes defense with runs like he did in the first half against Carroll, the defense has to drop a safety down in run support. They also have to be concerned with Kai Lemons (four catches for 81 yards) on the outside and Kooser (two catches for 56 yards) coming out of the backfield when quarterback Dan Dawdy drops back.
“They pretty much have to leave something open,” Dawdy said. “It’s just been the tight end a lot so far.”
Carroll’s defense was in a constant bind throughout the night.
Dawdy was brilliant in picking apart a Carroll defense that was made vulnerable again after a Week 1 loss to Northwest where the Golden Eagles allowed 61 points and 740 total yards.
When the Derby quarterback (Dawdy threw for 288 yards) wasn’t picking on Carroll’s secondary — usually looking to Tabor — it was Kooser (86 rushing yards on 12 carries) who was running loose. Derby’s offense generated 459 yards on 47 plays, good for a 9.8-yard average.
“You try to man up and then they had mismatches and they took advantage of it,” Carroll coach Alan Schuckman said. “And then you try to drop back in coverage, then the run game hurts you and they have a solid running game, too. It becomes a little like a chess match and their chess moves were better than ours.”
Despite the final score, Carroll, which suffered a second regular-season loss for the first time since 2010, had an opportunity to push the No. 1-ranked team.
After falling behind 21-6 in the first half, Carroll reeled off a 6-minute, 11-play drive capped by a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Gage Gottschalk, who was replacing starting running back Adam Theis after Theis exited the game in the second quarter with a left knee injury.
Theis, who had scored 11 touchdowns this season, did not return to the game and was on crutches afterward. A running game that was averaging 210 yards finished with just 117 yards on 41 carries, a 2.9 average.
“That really took us out of a lot of our offense,” Schuckman said. “He’s a big part of our offense so when he’s not in there, that hurt us.”
Still, if Carroll could survive 58 seconds, then it would go into halftime and begin the second half with the ball down by a single score to Derby.
Instead, Kooser found room on the left sideline on the ensuing kickoff and returned it 97 yards for a touchdown to push Derby’s lead to 28-13.
Considering how thoroughly Derby dominated the second half, the momentum swing may not have meant much in the outcome of the game. But it sure felt like it did at the time to Carroll.
“That was a killer,” Schuckman said. “We felt like we were right back in the game, then that happened.”
Derby’s defense put on a clinc in the second half, dominating the point of attack with lineman Peerlus Walker and Riley Cain consistently breaking through and linebackers Tommy Carter, Braeden Cooper, and Braden Richardson flying into the backfield.
Carroll’s offense was shut out for an entire half for the first time this season and could muster only 75 yards on 30 plays. Carroll also finished the game 1 for 10 on third-down attempts, failing to convert its first nine tries.
“I can’t say halftime was necessarily fun,” Clark said. “I kind of got on the kids a little bit, but they responded and I think our defense stepped it up a little bit.”
After Derby’s defense forced a punt to open the third quarter, Kooser scored his third touchdown of the game to extend Derby’s lead to 35-13 with 4:51 remaining in the third quarter.
Once Carroll’s defense was leaning toward stopping the run, it was as if they forgot about the Division-I commit streaking down the middle of the field. Tabor hauled in four more passes, including two touchdowns, in the final 13 minutes of the game.
Not only did Derby improve to 5-0, extending its winning streak to 15 games, but it also maintained its status atop the Class 6A standings on the Western side with the maximum 21-point margin of victory for the fifth consecutive game this season.
“It will help us in the playoffs and with the goal we’re trying to achieve,” Tabor said. “Carroll is a great team, but we just game-planned really well.”
D: Tabor 43 pass from Dawdy (Tullis kick)
D: Kooser 29 run (Tullis kick)
C: Cundiff 7 pass from Howell (run failed)
D: Kooser 3 run (Tullis kick)
C: Gottschalk 1 run (Steven kick)
D: Kooser 97 kick return (Tullis kick)
D: Dawdy 4 run (Tullis kick)
D: Tabor 11 pass from Dawdy (Tullis kick)
D: Tabor 8 pass from H. Igo (Tullis kick)
Rushing—Derby: Kooser 12-86, Dawdy 11-50, H. Igo 2-25, Syring 1-2. Carroll, Gottschalk 9-49, Linnebur 16-33, Howell 13-25, Theis 3-10.
Passing—Derby, Dawdy 15-20-1-288, H. Igo 1-1-0-8. Carroll, Howell 15-27-1-143, Becker 1-1-0-20.
Receiving—Derby, Tabor 8-151, Lemons 4-81, Kooser 4-81, Taylor 1-4, Jones 1-4. Carroll, Cundiff 5-48, Robben 4-36, Theis 2-49, Winter 2-18, Nichols 2-2, Helten 1-10.