ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ERIC CLARK
The Tabor Bluejay football team sailed into uncharted waters Saturday night with their 42-28 win over archrival Bethel at Reimer Field.
The win marks Tabor’s first KCAC win of the season, the second win against Bethel in nine years and the first 2-0 start in the history of the program.
“We feel we’re making progress,” head coach Tim McCarty said after the game.
The Bluejays got an instant boost from utility-man Tyler Marsh, who took the opening kickoff 68 yards to set up a 33-yard field goal by Dylan Pohlman to put the Jays on the board 3-0.
After Tabor’s Jeremy Loewen recovered a fumble, the Bluejays ran three plays to set up another Pohlman field goal, this one from 32 yards out.
Bethel, struggling to get anything going, fumbled the ball again on their next possession and Brian Wahl recovered the ball inside the Thresher 39-yard line.
Tabor took advantage and scored its first touchdown five plays later on a 14-yard pass from quarterback Willie Lopez to Preston Neufeld.
Pohlman added the extra point and the Bluejays took a commanding lead 13-0 with 7:25 left in the first quarter.
On their next play from scrimmage, Thresher quarterback Brad Thimm hit a wide-open Kevin Starr for an 80-yard touchdown strike to put Bethel on the board. Chris Rico added the extra point to make the score 13-7.
Tabor again marched down the field behind the rifle-arm of Lopez, who helped his Bluejay teammates advance 65 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown pass to Marsh.
After a Lopez pass to Marsh on the 2-point conversion, the Bluejays led 21-7 with 5:25 left in the first quarter.
Except for a three-yard touchdown run by Lopez and Pohlman’s PAT, Bethel dominated most of the second quarter. Two touchdowns tightened the halftime score to 28-21.
In contrast, the Bluejays controlled much of the third quarter and extended their lead at the 10-minute mark on a Kelvin Campbell 15-yard touchdown trot. Pohlman’s kick made it 35-21.
Bethel stormed back on their next series, scoring on a Thimm option-keeper to close the gap again 35-28 after the successful PAT.
But on the very next series, Lopez launched another aerial missile, this time to a sprinting Nathan Funk in the back of the end zone, for a 27-yard tiptoe touchdown and a 42-28 lead after Pohlman’s kick.
Tabor made several big defensive stops in the final quarter, including several sacks, to preserve the 42-28 victory.
“We really kept them off-balance throughout the course of the game,” McCarty said. “We tried to complement our run and our passing game.”
Lopez lead the offensive attack with a solid night, throwing for 377 yards and three touchdowns and running a fourth score, amassing 409 total yards.
Marsh lead the team in receiving with five catches for 110 yards. Funk had four catches for 100 yards.
McCarty credited his defense for their tough play.
“Our kids were hitting pretty hard defensively,” he said.
Defensive back C.J. Hill led Tabor with 10 tackles. Outside linebacker Kyle Holzheuser added three sacks.
Despite their outstanding performance, Tabor at times looked unsure of themselves, according to McCarty. The team racked up 12 penalties for 120 yards.
“Sometimes we look like a zoo,” McCarty said. “We just can’t make those kind of mistakes.”
He pooh-poohed the significance of the team’s unprecedented start.
“We’ve got a lot to prove-there’s still eight games left and there’s a lot of good teams in this conference.”
Tabor played well as a team, McCarty said.
“We’re really trying hard to define the word ‘team’-we’re kind of a no-name group” he said. “It’s not a concept that’s used in the year 2001.”
“I want kids who are unselfish and that’s a value that is important.”
The Bluejays will travel to Lindsborg on Saturday to battle Bethany College at 7 p.m. The Swedes (1-0) will be looking to take revenge on Tabor’s upset win a year ago.