“We need to turn our weaknesses into strengths,” head coach Mike Gottsch said. “It’s how I’ve always coached—we need to take critical looks at ourselves and get better.”
On a tough night for defense, the teams combined for 866 yards of offense.
Tabor ran 87 plays for 429 yards, but the Warriors turned two early Bluejay turnovers into a 14-0 advantage on the scoreboard.
“The start of each half is huge,” Gottsch said. “We have to take care of that football and not allow ourselves to get in that position.”
After DeJaun Jones was intercepted on Tabor’s second possession, the Bluejays fell behind 7-0 on an option keeperrun from nine yards out by Sterling transfer quarterback Jake Buchanan with 6:10 left in the first frame.
Tabor senior defensive back Andy Bartell left the game on the play, and Buchanan continued to run the option to perfection through the first half.
Sterling went up 14-0 when Buchanan shoveled a pass to Tyler Degenhardt six seconds into the second quarter. It came in the wake of a Jones fumble at the Tabor 39-yard line.
“DeJaun hurt his hand in practice midway through the week last week,”Gottsch said. “But I’m not using that as an excuse. He threw on Friday and said it felt good on Saturday, so we let him play.”
Jason Aubrey entered the game for Jones to start the second quarter, and Tabor got on the scoreboard six minutes later.
On Aubrey’s first series, he completed five consecutive passes including a 21-yard touchdown strike to Caleb Marsh.
Derik Martinez added the extra point, and Tabor trailed 14-7 with 9:13 left in the half.
The teams traded punts, and Sterling took advantage of a 30-yard option run by Buchanan to kick a field goal with 3:33 left before halftime.
After the kickoff, Aubrey took over with Tabor at its own 18 and marched the Bluejays down the field. He completed seven passes and converted on third-and-3 with an eight yard scramble to keep the drive going.
He then connected with Matt Dean for an eight-yard score with 31 seconds left in the half. Martinez’s extra-point kick was blocked, and Tabor trailed 17-13 at the break.
“I wasn’t real pleased with our PAT,” Gottsch said. “Our punt protection got a lot better, and we worked a lot on our PAT. But when you score, that has to be automatic, to get one point.”
Sterling’s offense blew the game open during a 2:54 stretch that spanned the end of the third quarter and the first play of the fourth.
Sterling’s third possession of the half began at the 20-yard line. After two short gains on handoffs, Degenhardt broke loose for a 61-yard sprint on an option pitch. He was caught from behind by Seth Mills at the Tabor 6-yard line, setting up a second touchdown run by Buchanan with 2:34 left in the third.
“There were times when the defense played well,” Gottsch said. “But we had difficulties with the option that they ran. They executed very well, but it’s something we need to get better at.”
Marsh returned the ensuing kickoff 36 yards, bringing the Bluejay offense onto the field at the 42-yard line.
A Warrior penalty gave Tabor a first down, and Aubrey converted a third-and-1 on a quarterback keeper as Tabor picked up speed.
But Sterling defensive back Craig Mans stepped in front of Marsh to intercept Aubrey’s next pass. Mans was tackled by Aaron Stepanek at the Sterling 49, giving the Warriors first-and-10 at midfield for the last play of the third quarter.
“You become predictable when you get down and you have to come back,” Gottsch said. “We need to eliminate turnovers and quit giving them points.”
A botched snap recovered by Degenhardt cost the Warriors three yards, but not the ball.
Degenhardt fired a 54-yard touchdown pass to Josh Oberle on the first play of the fourth, giving Sterling a 30-13 lead with 14:49 remaining in the game.
Tabor’s next drive ended when Sterling’s Justin Hejny tipped a pass away from Steven Chisholm on fourth-and-goal from the 7-yard line.
The Bluejay defense combined with two penalties to force a 3-and-out punt on Sterling’s next possession, and the Tabor offense took over at midfield.
After a penalty and two quick runs earned Tabor two first downs, Aubrey connected with Stepanek for seven yards on fourth-and-two.
Then Demetrius Cox turned a broken play into a touchdown.
Aubrey dropped back to pass, was sacked and fumbled on third-and-goal. The ball bounced all the way to the right hashmark at the Tabor 22, where Cox scooped it up and sprinted all the way back to the left side before turning up field and strutting into the end zone with Tabor’s third touchdown of the night.
A penalty wiped out the point-after, forcing Martinez to retry the kick from five yards further back, and Hejny got a hand on the second attempt. With the Warriors attempting to recover the live ball, a Tabor lineman was flagged for running over a Sterling defensive back away from the play.
The penalty was assessed on the kickoff, and Martinez put the ball in the air from his own 15-yard line. It bounced out of bounds for another penalty, giving Sterling first-and-10 at the 50-yard line.
On the fifth play of the drive, Buchanan fired another long bomb to Oberle, who made the 29-yard catch in the end zone for a 36-19 lead.
Tabor marched for another score before the clock ran out, but the game was effectively over with 1:45 to play.
Even so, the Bluejays pressed, mounting a seven-play drive ending with Marsh catching a 7-yard pass for his second touchdown of the contest with 4.1 seconds remaining.
“Offensively we were able to move the ball well at times, and played well other than the turnovers,” Gottsch said. “We amassed a number of good stats.”
Aubrey finished with 265 passing yards. Marsh had six catches for 100 yards, his second career 100-yard receiving game. Marsh topped 1,000 career receiving yards and now has 13 touchdown catches. He moved into third place all-time among Tabor receivers in touchdown catches.
“Aubrey has a strong arm and a lot of skill,” Gottsch said. “He’s a very strong-armed kid who is starting to pick up our offense.”
Coming—Tabor, 0-2 for the first time since 2000, returns to Hillsboro on Saturday for a non-conference contest against Oklahoma Panhandle State University, an NCAA Division II school.
“They’re like us,” Gottsch said. “They haven’t won a game yet, and they’re not a veteran group of guys.
“They’re young and they’ve got a lot of quality athletes on the team,” he added. “It’s just a matter of them coming together, like we’re trying to do.”
“And who are we right now?” he went on. “We’ve got our woes and our things we’ve got to get fixed, but we feel like if we prepare and eliminate the mistakes we’ve been making, we can get a win this week.
“But we’ve got to work hard at it.”