Late field goal grounds Bluejays

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ANDREW OTTOSON
Bluejays Alex Wallace (left) and Zack Peters close in on Falcons quarterback Chris Randolf, who guided his team to a 356-yard outburst against Tabor’s top-flight defense. Yards did not translate into points on Saturday. The two teams combined for 763 yards, but only 30 points.

Coming into Saturday’s game, the Friends University defense had thrown five consecutive shutouts.

In an attempt to knock the Falcons off of their perch atop the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, Tabor grabbed a 14-7 lead early in the fourth quarter of the game in Wichita.

But the only score either team surrendered in the first half came back to haunt the Bluejays, who dropped a heart-breaking 16-14 decision on a late Falcon field goal.

Playing their final home game of the season, Friends celebrated senior day with an elaborate pre-game presentation of the school mascot.

The announcement of starting lineups may well have been the most enthusiastic in the whole of the KCAC, but Bluejay quarterback DeJaun Jones silenced the home crowd with a 42-yard scamper on the first play from scrimmage.

Jones finished with 215 passing yards and 142 rushing yards, and the option offense averaged 6.6 yards per play against one of the KCAC’s top defenses.

“Running the option well really limits what other teams can do defensively against us,” coach Robert Rubel said. “We took the first quarter to figure out what they were going to try to do to stop us and what that would open up.”

Tabor’s next three plays went for no gain, and Derik Martinez launched the game’s first punt.

The Falcon and Bluejay defenses sparred spent the rest of the quarter but didn’t break until Friends running back Montrell Vann got loose with 1:15 on the clock.

Vann took a handoff at his own 27 and blasted his way down the sideline for 73 yards to give the Falcons a 7-0 lead.

Tabor’s offense responded with a short drive to set up a 48-yard field goal attempt that fell short and wide left.

That’s when Tabor’s defense took stinginess to a new level. Deep in their own territory, the Bluejays stuffed the Falcons on a fourth-down try, and Andy Bartell picked off Chris Randolf on Friends’ next possession.

Building on the fourth-down stop, Tabor allowed only 20 yards on Friends’ next three drives.

While Aaron Jenkins spent most of the first two quarters running over, around and through every defender sent to cover him, his biggest play in the first half came on a reverse-pass to Nate Owens that went for 38 yards.

The third quarter opened with Tabor moving the ball through the Friends defense like a hot knife through butter.

“They were going to try to play man (coverage) on our receivers, and I don’t know too many teams that can do that successfully,” Rubel said.

Jenkins’ hands heated up during halftime, and the receiver torched the Falcon secondary for 64 yards on three catches as the Bluejays knotted the score at 7-7.

Jenkins’ third catch of the drive was a 25-yard touchdown toss from Jones, and Martinez drilled the extra point with 9:49 left in the third.

After Jenkins’ touchdown catch, the Friends defense started sending double coverage at him.

That decision left Owens with even more room to work, and he came up with a 44-yard grab on Tabor’s next possession.

The drive stalled midway through the third quarter, but the first drive of the fourth quarter gave Tabor its seven-point lead.

Jones connected with Caleb Marsh for 19 yards and scrambled for 17 more as the Bluejays crossed midfield.

Jones ran a 20-yard option keeper on the next play and finished the drive with a 16-yard strike to Owens for the score.

Martinez kicked the extra point with 13:06 to go to make the score 14-7 in Tabor’s favor.

Friends struck back quickly as quarterback Randolf connected on three consecutive passes: a 15-yarder to Abe Kersting, a 15-yarder to Luke Flannagan and a 38-yard touchdown pass to Kersting.

But the Falcons fell short of a tie when kicker Colton Cody missed the extra point with 9:27 left in the game.

The Bluejays ran eight plays and burned 6:12 on their next drive, but came away with no points.

With the ball on the Falcon 19-yard line and facing a third-and-three, a penalty pushed the visitors back five yards.

The next play was a reverse that put the ball in Jenkins’ hands, but this time defender Andrew Swisher held his ground despite the misdirection.

Swisher’s tackle stopped the play for an 11-yard loss and denied Martinez a chance to give Tabor a 10-point lead. Instead, Martinez came on to punt.

“(On the third-and-three) I was hoping we could get the first and basically end the game,” Rubel said.

“But after we lost yardage on the reverse, I felt our best chance was to make them drive the length of the field against our defense.”

Martinez’s punt came within a few feet of pinning the Falcons inside their own 5-yard line, but an unlucky bounce turned the low, line-drive into a touchback.

“If I had to do it again, I’d probably do the same thing,” Rubel said. “I have a strong belief in our defense, and when I can put them in position to win the game, I’m going to do it.”

Randolf led the Friends offense onto the field with 3:15 to go and the ball on the 20-yard line. Eleven plays and 57 yards later, Cody came on to try for a 40-yard field goal.

Cody’s kick split the uprights and put the Falcons up by a pair, and the final 16 seconds ticked away too quickly for the Bluejays.

The loss dropped Tabor to 4-4 in the conference, while Friends (7-1) kept pace with Bethel and Sterling atop the KCAC.

Tabor again used a balanced attack to roll up more than 400 yards of offense while Jones set a new record for Tabor quarterbacks. Prior to Saturday, no Tabor player had ever rushed for 100 yards and thrown for 100 yards in the same game.

“It is hard to blitz and stunt against an option team, and that allows us to use play-action as part of a good three-step passing game,” Rubel said.

Joey Palacio and Shiaphan Lewis each recorded six tackles, and Andy Bartell added five tackles to go with his interception.

Coming-The Bluejays hit the road Saturday for a game against the University of Saint Mary. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. in Leavenworth.

USM is 2-6 and has been outscored 97-41 in four consecutive losses.

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