Tabor wins thriller over Sterling, 45-42

Cody Coleman carries the ball during the fourth quarter against Sterling Saturday.
Cody Coleman carries the ball during the fourth quarter against Sterling Saturday.
In a thrilling matchup between a pair of ranked teams, the 12th-ranked Tabor College football team defeated No. 25 Sterling, 45-42, Saturday, despite trailing, 28-9 at halftime.

Following a lackluster first-half performance, Tabor kicked it into gear in the second half, shutting out Sterling in the third quarter, then scoring touchdowns on its final four possessions of the game. The Bluejays scored the game-winning touchdown with just 2 seconds left in the contest.

To start the game, Sterling took a 7-0 lead thanks to a 4-yard touchdown pass by Cedrick Phillips. Tabor answered with a scoring drive on its second possession when Drevion Cooper crossed the goal-line from 2-yards out. Jared Slavens’ extra-point kick attempt was blocked, giving Sterling a 7-6 advantage at the first break.

The Warriors struck back quickly, scoring on a 51-yard touchdown pass just 9 seconds into the second quarter, extending their lead to 14-6.

After a 30-yard field goal attempt by Slavens missed its mark, Sterling scored on its next two possessions, first on a 7-yard run by Phillips, then on a 60-yard first-down pass. That made it 28-6 with 1:19 left in the half.

Slavens connected on a 28-yard field goal with 6 seconds remaining, bringing the halftime score to 28-9 in favor of the Warriors.

Tabor’s defense stepped up the intensity after intermission, forcing the Warriors to punt four times in the third quarter. The Bluejay offense, meanwhile, showed signs of life by orchestrating a drive that ended with a 35-yard field goal by Slavens. On Tabor’s next possession, Curry Parham completed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Zach Johnson. The two-point conversion attempt failed, bringing the score to 28-18 at the 6:52 mark. That score held through the end of the third quarter.

The Bluejays’ first possession of the final quarter ended in a punt after a 60-yard touchdown run by Drevion Cooper was negated by a penalty and a fake field goal run for a first down was called back because of a penalty.

However, after a Sterling punt, Tabor scored on an 8-yard touchdown run by Joe Donnell. Slavens’ kick brought Tabor within 28-25 with 9:36 to play.

With Tabor’s defense in lockdown mode, Sterling was forced to punt after three plays, and Tabor orchestrated a scoring drive to take its first lead. Following a pass to Zach Johnson, Parham hit Donnell for a 36-yard touchdown strike down the left sideline. With 5:15 to play, Tabor took the lead, 32-28.

Not to be outdone, Sterling benefitted from a sizable kickoff return as well as a penalty. That set the Warriors up at the Bluejay 1-yard line, and Sterling crossed the goal-line to regain the lead, 35-32.

Ontre’Von Cooper gave Tabor favorable field position with a nice return on the ensuing kickoff, and a sprint by Cody Coleman set up a 5-yard touchdown run by Drevion Cooper with 3:05 left in the game. That put Tabor back in front, 39-35, after Slavens’ kick.

Again, Sterling responded with a score, marching down field and crossing the goal line on a 1-yard touchdown run to regain the lead, 42-39, with just 30 seconds left in the game.

Ontre’Von Cooper recorded a favorable kickoff return, and Tabor benefitted from a Sterling offsides penalty. That put the Bluejays at the Warrior 23-yard line with 19 seconds to play.

With just 2 seconds on the clock, Parham threw a perfect strike to Darius Stallworth in the end zone for a 12-yard score. The extra-point kick failed, but Tabor held a 45-42 advantage and sealed the win after the ensuing kickoff.

Coming—Tabor (3-0, 3-1) will travel to Southwestern (0-3, 0-4) Saturday for a 1:30 p.m. game. Southwestern lost to Friends, 35-7, Saturday.

For scores and updates during games, follow Janae on Twitter @janaerem13