The Bluejays got off to a rocky start, punting to Bethel on a 3-and-out to start the game. With the wind at their backs, Bethel took over in Tabor territory.
The Bluejays seemed to have stopped the Threshers cold when Clayton Kessler dragged Brett Clow down 6 yards behind the line of scrimmage to bring up fourth-and-14.
But Bethel went to the air and connected for a 24-yard completion from Clow to Lance Francis. Then Anthony Melton hammered his way into the end zone, giving the Threshers a quick 7-0 lead and temporarily silencing the energetic homecoming crowd at Reimer Field.
Tabor went 3-and-out on its second possession, and a long punt return by Brandon Kaufman started the Threshers out first-and-10 inside Bluejay territory again.
Clow hit Darron Morgan for a 38-yard pass on the first play of Bethel’s second series, and Josh Rogers ran into the end zone for a 14-0 lead with 5:26 to go in the first frame.
Tabor went 3-and-out for the third straight time, but a favorable bounce on the punt gave the Bluejay defense a longer field to work with. The unit came up with its first stop of the game, forcing a punt with 1:55 to go in the quarter.
But the offense continued to struggle, as Thomas Cooprider picked off Jason Aubrey at the Bethel 30-yard line. Kyle Basinger appeared to have recovered the ball for Tabor when he darted into the throwing lane to intercept Clow’s pass to Michael Unruh.
But, unfortunately for Tabor, Basinger was hit hard during the return and fumbled the ball back to the Threshers, who then had first-and-10 at the Tabor 39.
Despite the hiccup, the Bluejay defense came up with its third straight stop when Mike McNatt hit Clow 2 yards short of the first down on fourth-and-3 early in the second quarter.
But Aubrey had a second pass intercepted two plays later. His throw was intended for Troy Frick 32 yards down field, but instead landed in Kaufman’s hands, and Bethel’s offense had superior field position.
The Bluejay defense continued to hold its ground, and the offense finally broke through with a 79-yard drive with 6:44 to go in the half.
Aubrey hit Kelly Walker for a 17-yard gain, then fired a 30-yard strike to Caleb Marsh. A no-gain run and two incompletions brought up fourth-and-11 and brought the field goal unit onto the field for a 50-yard attempt.
But a penalty assessed for running into the kicker was flagged against Bethel during the try, and the Bluejay offense came back onto the field.
Aubrey immediately located Marsh, who outfought a Thresher defensive back for a 27-yard touchdown catch near the end zone’s front right pylon, halving Bethel’s lead with 4:10 remaining before halftime. Derik Martinez kicked the extra point, and Tabor trailed 14-7.
But the day’s theme continued to be iron defensive will undermined by an inept offense. Tabor again forced a 3-and-out, and again gave Bethel premium field position with a turnover.
After Aubrey’s third interception, Lance Stubbs temporarily saved a touchdown, running down Scotty Yerges from behind.
A moment later, Melton hammered home the winning touchdown from three yards out and Michael Montez drilled his third extra point for a 21-7 Bethel lead with 37 seconds left in the half.
The third quarter began with Tabor’s defense allowing another long pass from Clow to Francis, but forcing and recovering a fumble to kill the drive. Dustin Eagleburger jumped on the loose ball at the Tabor 37 with 10:53 left in the period.
But the offense misfired again, going three-and-out to set up another of Martinez’s seven punts. This one was his longest of the day, a 61-yarder with the wind for a touchback from the Tabor 39.
Bethel drove 80 yards in 10 plays, running off 5:28. Rogers capped the drive with a 1-yard quarterback sneak for the score, making it 28-7 with 2:16 left in the third.
Tabor got the ball back, first-and-10 at the 33, ran three plays, lost 5 yards and committed its fourth turnover of the game as Kaufman cut in front of Jason Medellin for his second interception.
It was more of the same in the fourth quarter, with Melton ripping a 46-yard run down the Bethel sideline to make it 35-7 with 13:01 left in the game.
Bethel added field goals of 21 and 28 yards, and Tabor added two touchdowns.
The second field goal brought in a wave of substitutions for Bethel. Goessel High School standout Garrett Hiebert handled the last two series for the Threshers.
Anthony Davis entered the game for Aubrey, who was injured late in the first half and accounted for both of Tabor’s late scores.
He threaded an 11-yard pass to Caleb Marsh for a touchdown with 1:16 to go. Then, after an onside kick recovered by Terry Bates, Davis scrambled 8 yards for the game’s final score.
Tabor finished with 217 yards of total offense compared to 392 for Bethel. The Threshers ran for 219 yards, and Tabor was held to minus-1 rushing yard.
Tabor threw for 218 yards on 32 attempts, and Marsh caught six passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns. But the Bluejay passing game also totaled four interceptions.
Coming—Tabor (1-6) faces Southwestern (2-5) Saturday at Reimer Field. Kickoff is slated for 1:30 p.m.