Falcons thrash Bluejays with turnover help

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Tabor linebacker Clayton Kessler closes in on Friends quarterback Chris Randolph. While Randolph got rid of the ball in time to avoid the sack on this play, Kessler led the Bluejays with two tackles for loss. Andrew Ottoson / Free Press.

Friends University celebrated homecoming with a 53-point victory over Tabor College Satur?day night.

The Falcons came into the game ranked 21st in the NAIA, having fallen from 12th after a 26-21 loss at Bethany two weeks ago. Restoring their rank appeared to be a high priority as the Falcons outscored the Bluejays 66-13.

?We ran into a buzz saw,? coach Mike Gottsch said. ?They?re one of the best teams in the conference, and we needed to take better care of the football to give ourselves a chance.?

One has to go back 15 years to find a comparable game between the Falcons and Bluejays. In 1992, Friends beat Tabor 58-0.

It was the biggest margin of defeat for Tabor since Sioux Falls hammered the Bluejays 72-11 in the 2004 NAIA playoffs.

Having forced the first of seven Tabor turnovers, Friends opened the scoring when Trey Hightower blasted into the end zone for a 7-0 lead only 3:42 into the contest.

Disaster struck again on Tabor?s second possession, when Drew Johnson blindsided Bluejay quarterback Jason Aubrey, forcing a second fumble. Michael Hecht recovered for the Falcons. Tabor?s defense held its ground, but a field goal made it 10-0 with 9:28 left in the first quarter.

?It has to be a team effort,? Gottsch said of the adjustment required to reduce turnovers. ?If a defender can come untouched, sprint for 7 yards and hit the quarterback in the back, most guys will fumble.?

The teams played to a standstill for the rest of the frame and the score remained unchanged until 45 seconds remained in the second quarter.

Then, having mounted a 14-play, 89-yard drive, Hightower put Friends up 17-0 on a 9-yard touchdown run.

Tabor fired back, with Aubrey connecting on four of five passes before the half expired. Jason Medellin made three grabs including a 9-yard touchdown with 12 seconds left. The key play of the drive was a 32-yard strike to Lance Stubbs and the only incompletion was a ball knocked away from Caleb Marsh in the end zone. Derik Martinez tacked on the point-after, and the halftime score was 17-7.

But the wheels fell off in the third quarter. Friends marched 62 yards in 10 plays to start the frame, capping the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Chris Randolph. Tabor went three-and-out, and Martinez punted from his own end zone.

Martinez had already blasted three massive punts, including two 50-plus bombs into the wind gusting out of the south, and had pinned a fourth out of bounds inside the Friends 20-yard line.

But his first kick of the second half barely cleared the Bluejay 37-yard mark.

Working with another short field, Friends took a 31-7 lead on another sharp run by Hightower.

Marsh lost his second fumble of the night on the ensuing kickoff.

Falcon running back Anthony Bess came in to spell Hightower and scored on a handoff from 10 yards out, making the score 38-7.

The news worsened for the Bluejays on their next drive, when Aubrey faced down the Falcon pass rush and threw to Marsh. Aubrey was hit just as he released and was driven into the artificial turf. He got up clutching his throwing shoulder and sat out the rest of the game.

Backup quarterback Anthony Davis promptly drilled a 32-yard completion to Marsh.

Two plays later, Demetrius Cox eluded several tacklers on a 24-yard run, giving Tabor a first down at the Friends 14. But the Falcons denied the score, sacking Davis twice to end the threat.

The Bluejay defense returned the favor, forcing the Falcon offense into a three-and-out to start the fourth quarter, and Marsh returned the punt to midfield.

On the next play, Demetrius Cox took a pitch from Davis and threw to Marsh, who was open for a 39-yard completion. Davis then scampered 15 yards to score on a quarterback keeper.

It was the last highlight for the Bluejays, as Friends scored touchdowns on three straight series. Tabor managed only a first down via penalty whistled against Friends with 1:30 left in the game.

Hightower gained 152 rushing yards and scored three times on 29 carries. Bess totaled 99 yards and a touchdown on 17 tries. On four carries, Goessel High graduate Brett Goerzen added 31 yards and his first two touchdowns in a Falcon uniform.

As a team, Friends posted 328 rushing yards en route to 410 total yards.

Coming?Tabor (1-3) welcomes Bethany (3-1) to Hillsboro on Saturday for the first afternoon game of the season. The Swedes are coming off a 20-0 loss to Bethel. Kick off at Reimer Field is slated for 1:30 p.m.

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