Some losses are tougher than others, and Tabor’s 25-21 loss to Ottawa Saturday night on a last-second 100-yard touchdown run was a heartbreaker in the first degree.
“Best effort, best performance we’ve had since I’ve been back, and it just didn’t work out in the end the way we anticipated,” coach Mike Gardner. said.
Despite keeping a narrow lead over the second-ranked Braves all game, the Bluejays let victory slip through their fingers.
Leading 21-18 with a first-and-goal at the 3-yard line, Bluejay quarterback Simon McKee fumbled the ball into the end zone. In the ensuing confusion, Ottawa defensive back Donald Anderson scooped up the ball and ran 100-plus yards for the winning score.
“From the video, it appeared he crossed the plane (into the end zone),” Gardner said. “We could have played that last scenario differently, but it is what it is and the only thing that could have happened to go wrong for us did happen. We just have to move on and move forward.”
Tabor took an early lead when McKee completed a 42-yard pass to wide receiver Scott Bauer, then punched the ball in at the right pylon to cap a 45-yard, one-minute drive.
Kicker Joe Cannon’s kick made it 7-0 with 7:40 left in the opening quarter.
At the beginning of the second quarter, Ottawa pieced together a drive starting at its 6-yard line, helped by a pass interference call, to move downfield. The Bluejays got the stop on a third-and-16 to force Ottawa to settle for field goal at 12:09 to make it 7-3.
On Tabor’s next possession running back James Monroe Jr., took the ball on first down at the Tabor 25-yard line and ran 75 yards into the end zone at 12:07. The Bluejays led 14-3 with the extra point.
Near the eight-minute mark, Tabor tried to complete a drive sparked by a 53-yard punt return by Donnell Davis. But Ottawa defense stopped running back Brandon Johnson for a loss on third-and-eight, then blocked Tabor’s field-goal attempt.
After defensive back Korie Lewis broke up a pass in the end zone to deny a touchdown, Ottawa kicked a field goal with just under five minutes remaining in the half for a 14-6 margin.
“One thing that I’ve always been proud of is our ability to play pass coverage,” Gardner said. “We gave up yards, but when we needed to, we clamped down on their receivers.”
Ottawa, though, would not be denied a touchdown before halftime. The Braves started at their 33-yard line with 3:15 left on the clock. A few plays later, Braves quarterback Shane Gimzo connected with wide receiver Morey Croson for a 56-yard score. Tabor’s Davis blocked the kick to give the Bluejays a slim 14-12 lead at half-time.
With the Bluejays hanging on to a precarious two-point lead, Tabor generate some key defensive plays. Defensive end Terach Antoine added a sack to his five sacks and eight tackles-for-loss on the night; Hillsboro alum Dylan Delk then snagged an interception at the Ottawa 25-yard line with 14 minutes on the clock. McKee made it into the end zone, making it 21-12 after the PAT kick.
In the final minutes of the third quarter, Tabor drove from the 48-yard line and penetrated the end zone. But the play was called back on a holding penalty. Cannon’s field-goal attempt sailed wide right, leaving Tabor scoreless on the drive.
“We had a touchdown called back because of a holding penalty,” Gardner said. “However, that was even more blatantly obvious that it wasn’t a hold than breaking the plane at the end.”
As play entered the final quarter, Ottawa received two critical first downs on penalties.But receiver Jon Hilliger snagged a pass in the end zone moments later for Ottawa to narrow the lead to 21-18 ball with the failed extra point.
Tabor looked like it would hold on for the win thanks to some big plays on defense, including sacks from Antoine and Joe Jimenez and an interception by Chris Sanborn near Ottawa’s 5-yard line with 1:57 left to play.
But it was not to be.
Antoine led the Bluejay defense with 10 solo tackles and an assist, including eight tackles-for-loss for 40 yards. He had five sacks.
“He just plays with such a high energy level that he’s fast off the edge and difficult to block,” Gardner said.
Cody Godshall contributed eight solo tackles and Jimenez chipped in two sacks, three solo tackles and an assist.
On offensive, Monroe gained 156 rushing yards, followed closely by McKee with 140.
“(Monroe) does such a good job for us at that fullback spot,” Gardner said. “He’s able to find creases and he runs that option path really, really well.”
Coming—The loss leaves Tabor with a 3-2 record heading into Saturday’s homecoming game with undefeated conference opponent Kansas Wesleyan.
“They’ve a great passing game, great coaching, they’re very fundamentally sound on defense,” Gardner said. “It ought to be one of those games that will come down to just a few plays.” Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.