The Tabor College football team held off a second-half rally Saturday afternoon at Southwestern College in Winfield, 51-27, to improve to 7-2 overall and 6-1 in the KCAC.
“I knew the outcome of the game was going to be in our favor,” said coach Mike Gardner. “We just didn’t come out of the locker room very strong in the second half. We gave them more opportunities than we should have.”
The Bluejays take over the No. 2 spot in conference standings behind Ottawa University (7-1) and are now ranked in the top-20 nationally at 20th.
Tabor got things rolling early with a touchdown on the quarterback keeper from Simon McKee seconds into the first quarter, then with eight minutes remaining McKee connected with wide receiver Scott Bauer in the red zone for a touchdown.
The Joe Cannon PAT kick gave Tabor a 13-0 lead.
The Builders put points on the board on their next possession, scoring on a carry from quarterback Tyler Crandall at 4:22 to narrow the Bluejays’ lead, 13-7.
Southwestern kicked off to Tabor, but the Builders caught a break as they forced a Bluejay fumble on the return and recovered it on the TC 18-yard line.
But the Tabor defense came to life and earned not one, but two big stops on fourth-down plays, as a late hit penalty negated the first stop.
On fourth and 13 with 1:43 left in the period, Tabor’s JoJo Galvez blocked a field goal to deny Southwestern any points on the drive.
Cannon scored a field goal for Tabor to begin the second period, and then the Bluejays picked up another touchdown with just under seven minutes left in the half when running back James Monroe broke two tackles near midfield and ran in for the score to make it 23-7.
Monroe picked up another touchdown with 10 seconds left before the half, catching the strike from McKee in the middle of the end zone to give Tabor a 30-7 lead going into the locker room.
Crandall led the Builders’ second-half rally with a touchdown on the keeper three minutes into the second half, making it 30-14, then added six more points in the third quarter after the PAT was no good.
Monroe earned yet another touchdown for Tabor on a 13-yard carry with 2:36 on the clock.
Running back Nate Harrison scored seconds into the final period on a four-yard scramble, making it 44-20, before McKee added a touchdown on the keeper at 5:33 to put Tabor up, 51-20.
Southwestern’s Jordan Barrett connected on a 46-yard touchdown pass to Skylor Kistler at 3:24 for the final 24-point margin.
McKee earned KCAC Offensive Player of the Week honors, accounting for 320 total yards and four touchdowns. He passed for 226 yards and two scores, going 14-21, and had 94 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Monroe led the Bluejay rushing game with 18 carries for 125 yards, followed by McKee (18/94), Tim Rozzell (5/34) and Harrison (3/27).
Bauer nabbed top receiving honors with two catches for 50 yards, including a touchdown. Other receivers included Brandon Johnson (2/39), Roger Mujica (4/36) and Monroe (3/21).
“I couldn’t have been more pleased with (our punt return game),” Gardner said, “and our offensive consistency in the first, second and fourth quarters was just tremendous.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Donnell Davis had an interception, Dylan Delk a sack and Galvez a blocked field goal to supplement five solo tackles each from Nik France and Joe Jimenez.
“When we were screwing around in the third quarter, I was really happy with how the defense responded,” Gardner said.
“We got a huge stop on fourth down, then we turned around and got a big stop again and we blocked a field goal.
“That stuff’s huge. That’s the kind of thing that has made our defense so effective this year.”
Also contributing were Chris Sanborn, Josh Murphy and Daniel Krehbiel with four solo tackles a piece.
Coming—Tabor, ranked 20th in the latest NAIA poll, faces off at home with conference opponent Friends University (5-3, 6-4) to conclude regular-season play on senior day.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
“Anytime you play Friends, you’d better bring your best game, because you know they will,” said Gardner.
“If it comes down to it and we just get in a good old-fashioned three-yard and a cloud of dust game, I hope our kids will be able to outlast them.”