ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ERIC CLARK
Most football coaches preach the importance of a strong defense. Tabor College proved why in a 25-6 win over highly favored Kansas Wesleyan Saturday at Reimer Field.
Not only did the Tabor Bluejays keep the Coyotes off the board for most of the game, but the defense also scored 15 of the team’s points.
Through four games, Tabor’s defense has allowed only 18 points, including two points that came on a Bluejay offensive series that resulted in a safety.
On Saturday, the Jays forced four fumbles, three interceptions and sacked Coyote quarterback Ryan Canfield four times.
In addition, Tabor held Kansas Wesleyan to 230 yards of total offense, virtually stopping KW’s rushing game in its tracks with only eight yards on 25 carries.
Defensive coordinator Mike Gardener said the team’s defensive scheme is beginning to pay dividends.
“Our philosophy is to get the offense the ball as often as possible,” Gardener said. “We just want to try and take away what our opponent’s offense does best. If we do that then we’re happy.”
Tabor defensive back Jason Phelps had another superb day, grabbing two interceptions, returning up a fumble for a touchdown and compiling three tackles and one assist.
“Our secondary does a great job of disguising and varying our defensive looks,” Gardener said.
“We play as a unit and as a team,” Phelps said. “I can’t point to myself for my accomplishments today. We’ve got to give a lot of our thanks to the O-line.”
Bluejay defensive back Jeremy Loewen also had a banner day with an interception and six solo tackles-two tackles shy of team leader Tracy Wehrman, who finished with eight tackles, two assists, one forced fumble, one tackle for a loss and one sack.
Offensively, Tabor managed 200 yards against a good Coyote unit. The Jays gained 103 yards rushing and 97 yards in the air-with the absence of wide receiver Tyson Ratzlaff, who broke his collar bone last Thursday and will miss two to four weeks, according to coach Tim McCarty.
“We did what we had to do when we needed to do it,” McCarty said. “We got just enough to get the job done. It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish that matters.”
The Bluejay defense began to assert itself midway through the first quarter when Phelps picked off a pass from quarterback Ryan Canfield.
The Jays struggled offensively, and subsequently punted the ball back to KWU.
After forcing the Coyotes to punt on their next possession, the Bluejay offense emerged. Olando Harris dove in from one yard out to give the Bluejays a 7-0 lead after Keenan Morris converted the PAT kick.
The Jays struck two more times in the second quarter, the first on a Morris 31-yard field goal at the 11:39 mark, and the second on a 36-yard fumble return by Phelps. Morris added the extra point and Tabor led 17-0 with 10:21 left in the first half. The Jays took that lead into the locker room at halftime.
In the third quarter, neither team scored, but the Coyotes began moving the football.
The Bluejays recorded a safety after Wehrman blocked a Kansas Wesleyan punt out of the Coyote end zone with 7:44 remaining in the fourth quarter to give Tabor a 19-point advantage.
But the Coyotes finally broke through with a 61-yard touchdown pass from Canfield to Steve Willis with less than five minutes left in the game. Kansas Wesleyan attempted the 2-point conversion, but came up short.
The Bluejays recovered the ensuing onside kick attempt, but were forced to punt back to the Coyotes with less than three minutes left in the game.
With time ticking away on the Coyotes, Loewen knocked the ball loose from a Kansas Wesleyan receiver, hauled it in and sealed the win with a 24-yard touchdown.
Offensively, quarterback Dave Hernandez threw for 97 yards, completing 10-of-23 passes. He threw one interception. Tyler Marsh caught seven passes for 61 yards.
Olando Harris managed 78 yards on 24 carries with one touchdown. His counterpart, Cameron Conant, added 40 yards on 11 carries.
Coming-The road for the Bluejays doesn’t get any easier in the next two weeks. The 4-0 Jays will host Bethany College this Saturday, then will travel to Ottawa University the following week.