GARDENDALE — Coach Keith Dabbs has been known to carry on conversations with reporters on the sideline during football games.
About halfway through the third quarter of Tabernacle Christian’s season opener against Hope Christian, he turned and said, “I’m running out of players.”
One of his best backs, sophomore Austin Hamlett, was dinged up and sat out the second half. His quarterback, junior Caleb Lindsey, was wearing out and making poor decisions that often led to turnovers.
In the end, Hope’s size and speed held up while Tabernacle’s didn’t, and the visiting Eagles came from two touchdowns down to win 41-36 in eight-man action Friday night at Gardendale’s Bill Noble Park.
A combination of turnovers and tackling issues led to the Torches’ downfall.
“At any level of football, you can’t turn the ball over, but in eight-man it’s a killer,” said Dabbs, who’s back as the head coach for Tabernacle after serving as an assistant under his son Wayne, who left after two seasons to take a coaching position in metro Atlanta.
“On three drives we wide-open tackles, unblocked. If we made the tackle on any of those, we had a chance to win.”
Actually, the Torches had a chance to win until the very end. Down 41-30 lead with 2:20 left in the game, Tabernacle struck quickly with two quick, long passes from Caleb Lindsey to Tristan Castro, who was tackled six inches from the goal line on the second catch. Lindsey scored on the sneak with 99 seconds left, but the subsequent onside kick was unsuccessful, and the Eagles made a first down to run out the clock.
The Lindsey-to-Castro combination was the most effective weapon for the Torches throughout the game. The pair connected on six passes, including two for touchdowns, for a total of 191 yards.
“There’s a lot of potential there. If we didn't throw the ball well tonight, we were in trouble,” Dabbs said. “His [Lindsey’s] decisions got better in the second half. Sometimes throwing the ball away is a good thing — it’s a lot better than throwing it to a yellow jersey.”
Lindsey was 12-for-26 for the game with three interceptions, three touchdowns and 254 yards.
Tabernacle took the early advantage, going ahead 14-0 on a 49-yard scoring pass to Castro on their third play from scrimmage. After recovering a fumble on the subsequent kickoff, a 12-yard throw from Lindsey to Hamlett gave the Torches their second score.
Hope got on the scoreboard late in the first quarter on a 9-yard run by Nick Ray, followed by something that’s a bit of a rarity in the eight-man game — a kick for an extra point by Cannon Fuqua. A scoreless second quarter led to a 14-7 halftime lead for the hosts.
Tabernacle scored on the first drive of the second half, set up by a 49-yard return of the opening kickoff. After Lindsey found 6-foot-5 receiver Tristan Lash with a trike down to the Eagles 3, Lindsey ran it in from one yard out to go up by two touchdowns.
But as good as Lindsey and Castro were for the Torches, Hope’s duo of Dillon Thompson and Reid Allen were even better. The twosome split time taking snaps, with Thompson being the smaller, quicker ball carrier and Thompson the taller, stronger one. They accounted for all of the Eagles’ offense after intermission, except for four plays in the fourth quarter.
Hope closed the gap to seven points on a 1-yard Allen charge up the middle with 7:11 left in the third quarter. Tabernacle answered immediately, with Lindsey finding Castro for a 53-yard bomb on the first play of the following drive. Then the Eagles answered that score immediately as well, following an onside kickoff attempt, as Allen threw to Thompson for a 36-yard touchdown — three scores in the span of 33 seconds off the clock, with Tabernacle on top 30-21.
Late in the period, Hope drew within three points after stopping the Torches on downs at their own 20. Thompson reversed his field and scrambled for a 6-yard touchdown run.
The teams traded interceptions to start the final period. But with Allen set up another Hope score with a 35-yard run, after slipping through an errant tackle. Houston Daily’s 2-yard charge through the middle gave the Eagles a 33-30 lead with eight minutes to play.
Allen administered the kill shot when he escaped another tackle and dashed 24 yards to score with 5:51 left.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Torches, as they travel to Alabaster next week to play Evangel Christian. The Lightning routed Ballard Christian 48-16 on Friday.