Bluejays ward off Friends rally

Ontre’Von Cooper takes the handoff from Keith Thomas during the fourth quarter against Friends Saturday. Cooper carried the ball six times for 49 yards and one touchdown in Tabor’s 32-27 victory. Tabor recorded 216 rushing yards for the afternoon.The 18th-ranked Tabor College football team did enough to withhold a late Friends rally in its 32-27 homecoming victory Saturday.

The Bluejays built a 32-6 lead, only to have Friends score three unanswered touchdowns to end the game.

“Friends does a good job of adjusting at halftime, they always have,” coach Mike Gardner said. “We probably would’ve made it a lot easier on ourselves if we’d have capitalized right before the half, but we didn’t.

“Offensively we really did a good job of having them on their heels, and for the most part, I think offensively we played a pretty good football game. Defensively we struggled a little bit.”

Tabor scored on the game’s opening drive. A 31-yard run by Ontre’Von Cooper put the Bluejays in the red zone, and two plays later, Joseph Donnell crossed the goal-line for a 1-yard score to cap the eight-play, 80-yard drive. Dimitri Bowie’s two-point conversion run gave Tabor an early, 8-0 lead.

Friends answered by covering 75 yards in 12 plays and scoring on a 2-yard touchdown run. Kevin Golden blocked the extra-point attempt, leaving Tabor in front, 8-6.

The Bluejays scored 24 consecutive points after that before Friends found an answer.

Zach Johnson started things off by returning Friends’ ensuing kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown. Jared Slavens’ kick made it 15-6 at the 4:42 mark.

Adrian Rodriquez cut the Falcons’ next drive short with an interception, but Tabor couldn’t capitalize. The first quarter ended with Tabor in front by nine.

The Bluejays added a touchdown and a field goal in the second quarter. Three plays into Tabor’s first drive of the quarter, Curry Parham completed a 43-yard pass to Johnson. On the sixth play of the drive, Keith Thomas connected with Johnson for an 18-yard touchdown pass. Slavens’ kick made it 22-6 with 11:36 left in the half.

On Tabor’s next drive, Thomas completed a 39-yard pass to Charles Beale, which put Tabor at the Friends’ 15-yard line. The drive stalled at the 8, however, and Slavens sent a 25-yard field goal through the uprights to extend Tabor’s lead, 25-6. That margin that held through halftime as Tabor fumbled the ball away on the Friends 3-yard line on its final possession of the half.

The Bluejays scored their final touchdown of the afternoon on their first possession of the second half. Tabor needed just two plays to find the end zone. After a 47-yard run by Donnell on first down, Cooper crossed the goal-line for a 4-yard score. That made it 32-6 with 11:56 left in the third quarter.

After that, Friends scored three unanswered touchdowns.

The Falcons covered 75 yards in 10 plays and scored on a 3-yard run to narrow the gap to 32-14. Tabor took that lead into the fourth period.

A Bluejay fumble set up Friends’ next score. The Falcons took over at the Tabor 26 and found the end zone in six plays, making it 32-20 with 10:14 to play.

Friends closed the gap even further, covering 57 yards in eight plays and scoring on a 19-yard touchdown pass with 1:28 left to play.

Trailing by five, Friends attempted an onside kick, but Matthew Chilo recovered it, allowing Tabor to run out the final 1:27.

“We had such a decent lead that we got conservative offensively, which is okay, especially when you’re going into the wind,” Gardner said. “We could’ve taken some more shots downfield, but that stops the clock. We did a good job with our time management of at least attempting to run the ball.

“The objective is to win the game. You can sit there and say we played not to lose, we didn’t play to win. I don’t necessarily look at it that way. We played to put ourselves in a position where we could take advantage of every situation that was coming up.”

Tabor rolled up 401 yards of offense, compared with 328 for Friends. The Bluejays rushed for 226 yards, led by Donnell with 19 carries for 124 yards and one touchdown. Through the air, Thomas was 5-for-6 for 94 yards and one touchdown. Parham was 3-for-9 for 81 yards. Johnson hauled in five catches for 103 yards and one touchdown. Rodriguez led the defense with 12 tackles and an interception.

Coming—Tabor (5-1, 5-2), who moved up to No. 16 nationally, will host McPherson (1-5, 1-7) Saturday at 1:30 p.m. for senior day.

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