Tabor edged by Ottawa in final seconds, 25-21

There are just some games that are tougher than others, and Tabor’s 25-21 loss to Ottawa tonight from a last-second 100-yard touchdown run off a fumble was a heartbreaker in the first degree. Despite keeping a narrow lead over the second-ranked Braves all game, the Bluejays let the upset slip through their fingers and Ottawa come up with the big play to take the win.

Tabor falls to 2-1 in conference play and 3-2 overall, going into their homecoming KCAC match-up with Kansas Wesleyan University Saturday. Kick-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.

The Bluejays scored on their second possession as sophomore quarterback Simon McKee punched the ball in at the right pylon to cap off a 55-yard drive. Freshman kicker Joe Cannon hit the PAT to make it 7-0 with 7:40 left in the first quarter. Incessant flags plagued both teams throughout the game and helped strong defensive efforts keep points off the board for the remainder of the period. 

At the beginning of the second quarter, Ottawa finally pieced together a drive from their on six-yard line, helped by a pass interference call on Tabor, to move down field. But the Bluejay defense got the stop on third-and-16 to force the Braves to content themselves with a field goal at 12:09 to make it 7-3. 

But on Tabor’s very next possession junior running back James Monroe, Jr., started on first down at the Tabor 25-yard line and took it to the house, pulling off a spin move to avoid the tackle and running the ball 75 yards into the end zone at 12:07. The Bluejays extended their lead to 14-3 with the extra point.

Though the Bluejays would try to put points on the board near the eight-minute mark, to complete a drive sparked by a 53-yard punt return from sophomore defensive back Donnell Davis, the Ottawa defense would tackle sophomore running back Brandon Johnson for a loss on a three-and-eight and then block the field goal to deny any Bluejay points. 

They then made their own field goal, after senior defensive back Korie Lewis broke up a pass in the end zone, with just under five minutes remaining in the half to narrow it to 14-6, Tabor. 

Ottawa was determined to earn a touchdown before the half, though, and they would not be denied. The Braves started their drive at their own 33-yard line with 3:15 left on the clock. A few plays later, Braves senior quarterback Shane Gimzo would connect with wide receiver Morey Croson for a 56-yard touchdown pass. Tabor’s Davis blocked the PAT to close out the half with the Bluejays holding a slim lead, 14-12.

With the Bluejays hanging on to a precarious two-point lead going into the second half, the Tabor defense needed a stop and they got it. Junior defense end Terach Antoine got the sack to add to his five sacks and eight tackles-for-loss on the night, pushing the Braves back 10 yards, and then Hillsboro alum Dylan Delk snagged an interception at the Ottawa 25-yard line with 14 minutes on the clock. 

Tabor pushed into the red zone, then on a third-and-one McKee made it into the end zone for a touchdown, making it 21-12 after the PAT kick. 

The Bluejays looked to score again near the five-minute mark in the third quarter, driving in from the 48-yard line and converting on third-and-two to run into the end zone. But the play was called back on a holding penalty and Cannon’s field goal kick went wide right, once again leaving Tabor scoreless on the drive. 

As play entered the final period of the game, Ottawa received two critical first downs on freebie penalties, first on a pass interference call when both players got tangled up on an overthrown pass and then, moments later, a first down on a holding penalty to give the Braves a first down at Tabor’s 31-yard line and negate an Antoine sack for a loss with 12 minutes left to play. Junior wide receiver Jon Hilliger got the catch in the end zone moments later for the Ottawa touchdown, making it a 21-18 ball game after the failed extra point.

Nevertheless, it appeared Tabor would hold out for the win as the Bluejays came up with big plays on defense, with sacks from Antoine and sophomore defensive lineman Joe Jimenez and an interception by senior defensive lineman Chris Sanborn near Ottawa’s five-yard line with 1:57 on the clock.

But it was not to be. On a first-and-three near the goal line, the Bluejays fumbled the ball into the end zone. In the ensuing confusion, Ottawa’s senior defensive back Donald Anderson scooped up the ball and ran it back 100 yards for the score to win the game for the Braves, 25-21. 

Tabor’s Antoine led the Bluejay defense by far, picking up 10 solo tackles and an assist, including eight tackles for a loss of 40 yards. He had five sacks. Junior defensive back Cody Godshall contributed eight solo tackles and Jimenez chipped in two sacks, three solo tackles and an assist. 

On the offensive end, Monroe, set the pace on the ground with 156 yards and a touchdown, followed closely by McKee with 140 yards and two touchdowns. McKee was four of 11 through the air for 69 yards. Junior wide receiver Scott Bauer led the receiving core with a 42-yard catch. 

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