The Tabor College defense once again hung in there Saturday to give the struggling offense a chance, but the worn out Bluejays couldn?t hold back the Falcons in the final minutes as Friends won the season finale, 31-21.
?We were physically outmatched,? coach Mike Gardner said. ?Our kids hung in there. We just got worn out on defense at the end.?
The loss ends Tabor?s season with 3-7 record and a 2-7 mark in the conference. They finished in a tie for eighth in the KCAC.
The Bluejays? offense started on the right foot, specifically the feet of freshman quarterback Simon McKee, who broke free for a 54-yard touchdown run with 10:15 left in the first quarter.
With the extra point the Jays led, 7-0.
But with 6:34 left Friends returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown, shattering Tabor?s momentum.
With 10:03 left in the half, the Falcons scored on a nine-play, 58-yard drive, but the defense limited the Falcons to a field goal to make the score 10-7.
Down by only three at halftime, things still didn?t look bad for Tabor as the third quarter began.
But at the 14:18 mark, the Bluejays turned over the ball at their own 40-yard line when a McKee pass was intercepted.
Fortunately for Tabor, the defense stopped the Falcons on a fourth-and-two play from the 9-yard line.
But with 1:35 left in the quarter, Tabor imploded on a punt attempt. Friends recovered the ball in Tabor?s end zone for a 17-7 lead.
Tabor?s offense finally found some spark at the beginning of the fourth quarter when McKee found Duray Gardener at 14:25 with a 36-yard pass for a touchdown, completing the five-play, 61-yard drive.
The extra point put the Jays within three, 17-14.
The Tabor defense stepped up again, this time in a fourth-and-one situation to end Friends? next possession.
With 7:35 left in the game, the Bluejays again found the end zone, this time on a pass from McKee to Nate Harrison, who scampered in for seven yards for a 21-17 lead. The score capped a 58-yard drive on seven plays.
But there was too much time left on the clock. The Falcons drove 55 yards on eight plays for a touchdown to lead, 24-21.
With just under three minutes left, victory was still within Tabor?s grasp. But the Bluejays fumbled on their own 11-yard line. Friends recovered the ball and scored three plays later for the final 31-21 margin.
Tabor managed just 193 yards of offense and allowed Friends 301.
McKee accounted for 102 of the team?s 141 yards on the ground on 24 carries. He went 4-for-10 passing for 42 yards and a score, but also an interception.
Harrison added nine carries for 44 yards and James Monroe chipped in 33 yards on 10 carries. Gardener led the receivers with 38 yards on two catches.
Senior Travis Sanford anchored the defense with 13 tackles. JP DeJesus had 10 tackles and Terach Antoine and Justin Vargaseach added nine.
But Tabor turned over the ball four times, resulting in two touchdowns for Friends.
?You can?t give up a punt return and fumble a punt snap against a good team like that,? Gardner said. ?Those things don?t go away when you have them through the season.
?Football?s a funny game, your problems don?t magically disappear.?
The Bluejays will lose 12 seniors to graduation, including Gardener, Sanford, Aziz Spellman-Smith, Aaron Annis, Spencer Brown, Don Nelson, Johnathon Frankenfield, Darien McCollins, Jiquon Townsend, Aaron Munsch, Jay Funk and Clark Wozich.