football-- Braves squander a 12-point lead against Taft and suffer a heartbreaking 36-35 defeat on Friday night

By zack palmer

of the news-times

When winless Banks traveled to winless Taft on Friday, one of the two struggling teams was guaranteed its first victory of the season.

As it turned out, Taft was on the winning end of a thrilling game, walking away with a 36-35 come-from-behind victory while the Braves were left to pick up the pieces of yet another loss - their fifth straight to open the season.

Taft (1-3) scored 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to forge ahead, and the Tigers survived a few anxious moments when Banks (0-5) missed a go-ahead 22-yard field goal attempt with about two minutes to play.

'The story of the game was that our defense couldn't stop the rush,' said Banks head coach Ben Buchanan. 'We gave up 298 rushing yards, which is way too much.'

Taft, trailing 35-23 after a Gabe Linehan touchdown pass to Thomas Moore early in the fourth quarter, came storming back behind that potent running game. Joel King punched his way into the end zone from a yard out to make it 35-29, and Jeremiah Bennett knotted things up with a 10-yard scoring run a few minutes later. Omar Cortes split the uprights with his extra point attempt to give Taft a one-point lead.

Banks took the kickoff and drove almost the length of the field, eventually stalling out at the 5-yard line. Jacob Tijerina came in to try a 22-yarder from the right hash, but the kick started right and stayed right, much to the chagrin of the Banks followers who made the nearly three-hour trip to Lincoln City.

Banks burned its final two timeouts trying to get the ball back, but Taft was able to pick up two key first downs and run out the remaining time on the clock.

Banks' offense, which struggled mightily in early-season losses to Mazama and Molalla, has come around in recent weeks, hanging 20 points on the board against Rainier and finding the end zone five times on Friday night against Taft. Quarterback Gabe Linehan completed 18 of 22 pass attempts for 271 yards and three touchdowns. Josh Marsh caught five of those passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns, and he also added a 42-yard interception return for a score in the first quarter that gave the Braves a 14-7 lead.

'Our offense is getting better,' said Buchanan.

Taft led 7-0 after a 50-yard touchdown run by Kyle Hamlin, but the Braves responded with two straight scores to go ahead 14-7, and they would eventually lead 21-10 at the end of the first quarter.

Linehan hooked up with Marsh for a 64-yard scoring strike, and Tijerina's extra point tied the game at 7-7. Marsh then gave Banks its first lead of the game with a pick-six that he took 42 yards to the house.

Taft would get a 20-yard field goal by Cortes to cut the deficit to 14-10, but David Fishback capped a long Banks touchdown drive with a 1-yard plunge to put the Braves back on top by 11.

King popped into the end zone from 3 yards out in the second quarter to once again cut into Banks' lead, but just before halftime it was Linehan and Marsh hooking up for the second time, this time on a 22-yard touchdown pass that nudged the Braves' lead to 27-17 at the break.

The Tigers scored the only touchdown of the third quarter on a 1-yard run by Hamlin, but a missed extra point allowed Banks to cling to a 27-23 edge. Linehan then found Moore for a 5-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and Tijerina tossed a pass to Marsh for a two-point conversion and a 12-point Banks lead.

That was when the Tigers came storming back.

Taft finished the game with 426 yards of total offense, 298 of which came on the ground.

Banks, meanwhile, did most of its damage through the air. Marsh cracked the century mark with five receptions, while Moore caught five passes for 63 yards and a touchdown. Alden Bayless had two catches for 40 yards and Johnny Janisko caught four balls for 27 yards.

The Braves also got 31 yards rushing from Dusty Nordholm, 26 from Linehan and 14 from Fishback.

Next up for Banks is a Homecoming week showdown against high-flying Yamhill-Carlton (4-1). The Tigers, now a member of the Cowapa League, are averaging 43.4 points per game and already defeated Taft 48-0 earlier this year.

'They have a potent offense,' said Buchanan. 'We'll need to score points and control the clock.'

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