By Friends (Kan.) Sports Information Department
WICHITA, Kan. - Friends and Tabor took the field Saturday afternoon in a matchup of top-15 nationally ranked teams in the NAIA National Game of the Week that promised to be a doozy and didn't disappoint.
Friends would get the first break of the game when the Bluejays muffed the catch on a punt and junior Marvin Desir (Bedford, TX) recovered on the Tabor 20 yard line. The Falcons couldn't take advantage and turned it over on downs though. Tabor would get a first down pass, but a miscommunication on a pitch would cost them 12 yards and they would be forced to punt two plays later.
The Falcons would return that punt into Tabor territory, but have to start on their own 30 after a block in the back penalty behind the play on the return. Friends would take the possession down the field and 11 plays later the pass from senior quarterback James Bauer (Hopkinsville, KY) to Chris Allen (McKinney, TX) from 8 yards out would put the Falcons on the board. The extra point would sail wide left and Friends would lead 6-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Three plays into the 2nd quarter, Tabor would take the handoff 44 yards for the score. The Bluejays would return the favor of a missed extra point for the 6-6 tie with 14:04 still left in the first half.
Friends would go 3-and-out on their next possession and punt. On the second play of the Tabor possession, Scott Bauer would sneak past the linebackers and take the pass all the way to the Falcon 13 where Sequente Marks (Wichita, KS) would strip him and Juante Baldwin (Kansas City, MO) would recover. Five plays later, Bauer would hit Allen again, this time for a 71 yard score. Freshman Ky Nixon (Hutchinson, KS) would hit the PAT to give Friends the lead back 13-6.
The Falcons would get a huge stop with Tabor driving to try and tie the score at the end of the half. The Bluejays faced 4th and 1 on the Friends 43 and tried a read option. The play didn't fool junior Jarrell Holland (Los Angeles, CA), who took the Tabor quarterback down for a 2 yard loss with just under a minute left in the 1st half. Friends got into Tabor territory but turned it over on downs. The Bluejays would kneel to get to halftime down 13-6.
The Bluejays would outgain Friends 206 yards to 174 in the half, but two big fumbles were costly, with the Falcons running 40 plays to Tabor's 29 and holding a 7:34 advantage in time of possession.
Tabor would get on the board first in the 2nd half with a tackle-breaking 44 yard touchdown run by James Monroe. Three Falcons had a chance to bring Monroe down at the line of scrimmage, but he was able to stay upright and race to the end zone for the tying scoring with 13:00 left in the 3rd quarter.
It was another 3-and-out and punt for the Falcon offense and another drive down into Friends territory for Tabor that ended with a 4th down stop for the Falcon defense with 7:24 left in the 3rd, still tied 13-13. Bauer would injure himself on a 3rd and 9 keeper that netted a first down, bringing in Derek Racette (Hutchinson, KS) at quarterback. On his first play under center, Racette eluded a sack and got the ball deep intended for Allen who was held trying to come back for the ball. Somehow the officials didn't see it, but Racette would complete a 3rd and 10 pass to senior Lewis Taylor (Wichita, KS) for 19 yards to the Bluejay 30. Three plays later Racette would find Allen in the back of the end zone for a great catch with a defender all over him for Allen's third touchdown of the game. The extra point would miss and Friends led 19-13 with 2:34 left in the 3rd, which would be the score at the end of the period with Tabor driving.
"That was really unfortunate because he (Bauer) was playing so well," said head coach Monty Lewis. "He threw a couple of touchdown passes and for his first start, he was doing really well, then to see that, it was completely a freak deal. He wasn't hit, that's what I hate about it. I'm not saying I'd be happier if it was a violent play, but I just feel so sorry for him 'cause he's waited his turn."
The Bluejays would take the lead less than a minute into the final period on a 4 yard touchdown pass on third down and goal, going up 20-19.
Friends would get good field position on the kickoff, getting it up to their 39 yard line, but couldn't do anything with it, punting it back to Tabor after netting only one yard.
The Falcons would hold Tabor on the ensuing possession, but the Bluejays faked the punt and picked up the first down on 4th and 9 to keep the Friends defense on the field. Later in the drive, Tabor would have a 4th and 2 on the Falcon 11 yard line but once again the Friends defense was up to the task, stopping the Bluejays just short of a first down to take over possession.
The offense went nowhere, having to punt it back to Tabor with 4:57 left in the game. It appeared the Bluejays would be able to salt the game away, but Marcus Carter (Las Vegas, NV) would force a fumble that the Falcons would recover on their own 18 with 2:05 left in the game.
Friends would have an opportunity to win it as a streaking Allen got behind three defenders on a post route, but Racette's pass didn't have quite enough air on it and the ball landed two yards past the receiver. Racette would get picked off two plays later on a tipped ball with 11 seconds left in the game and Tabor would kneel down to seal the 20-19 victory.
Allen finished the game with 5 catches for 137 yards and 3 touchdowns, once again showing the ability to make highlight catches whenever he wants. "We wouldn't have had a chance without him today. Especially after (Bauer) went down, he led that offense," said Lewis. "If he's not playing the way Chris Allen can play, we don't have a chance before, during, or after the game."
In other conference action, Sterling helped out the Falcons with a 30-18 upset of #8 Ottawa earlier in the day, leaving four teams (Friends, Tabor, Sterling, and Ottawa) tied for 1st place in the KCAC with four games left. Friends beat Sterling 31-0 back in September and plays Ottawa on November 9th in Wichita.
"What we want to accomplish is still clearly in front of use - we just need to win out. And we've done it before," Lewis said.
Friends is next in action at Bethany next Saturday, October 26th in Lindsborg. The game is scheduled for a 1:30pm kickoff.