Tabor loses heartbreaker to Sterling, 23-21

What appeared to be a blowout in the making early in the game, faded into regret and frustration as Tabor let a 21-3 lead in the second quarter slip through its fingers in a 23-21 loss to Sterling in the showdown of the KCAC’s nationally ranked teams Saturday at Sterling.

The 17th-ranked Bluejays sent a strong message in the early going, scoring on their first possession on a 21-yard touchdown run by Ontre’Von Cooper at the 9:08 mark of the first quarter.

When the Bluejays blocked a Sterling punt late in the quarter and advanced it to the Warrior 9-yard line, Tabor needed one play to cash in a second touchdown: Cooper’s sweep around the left end and into the end zone.

Sterling got on the board in the opening minutes of the second quarter with a field goal by Mike Winston at the 14:02. But Tabor marched 68 yards in five plays — a huge one being a 45-yard pass from Curry Parham to Skyler Valencia—then Drevion Cooper scored two plays later from the Sterling 6-yard line for a 21-3 lead after Austin Smith converted his third successful extra-point kick of the quarter.

But from that point on, momentum began teetering ever so gradually toward Sterling. The Warriors responded to Tabor’s third touchdown with one of their own on their very next possession: a 22-yd run by their elusive quarterback, Eric Butler, with 8:22 to play in the half. Sterling struck again on their next possession, launching an 80-yard, 12-play drive to shrink Tabor’s lead to 21-17 when Darryl Terrel swept the left end for a 1-yard score with 53.8 seconds left in the half.

Strangely enough, these two who combined for 38 points in the first half could not score until the final minutes of the second half moved forward—with both teams missing opportunities.

Late in the fourth quarter, Sterling finally got the ball into the end zone with 31.7 seconds left, but the apparent touchdown pass from Butler to Terrell was called back because of an ineligible-player penalty.

With Sterling resuming its drive on third-and-16 at the Tabor 16-yard line, the Bluejays stopped a fourth-and-4 play with 3.8 seconds showing on the clock with an apparent victory when Butler’s pass fell incomplete.

But the game officials called a penalty on Tabor, giving Sterling another chance at the 3-yard-line with no time showing on the clock. Butler then threw to Terrell for the winning score, igniting a celebration by Sterling fans and vocal consternation by Bluejay players and fans.

Tabor coach Mike Gardner told players in the post-game huddle that the officials did not cost them the victory. He said they lost the game for themselves because they allowed themselves to be in a position to be hurt by penalty calls.

With the loss, the Blue­jays fall to 3-1 in the KCAC and 3-2 overall. Sterling improves to 3-0 and 5-1.

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