ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Tabor football coach Tim McCarty must know what it’s like to be an investor who gets a hot stock tip, only to have circumstances force him to put his money in a lower-yielding CD.
He and his Bluejays still cashed in against Bethel, 19-10, Saturday at Reimer Field. But not nearly as much as they could have if they’d have scored on the hot stock.
Tabor penetrated the Bethel 20-yard line nine times, but scored just one touchdown while settling for six field goal attempts in the KCAC win.
“Our inability to score was really difficult for us,” McCarty said. “We’re very disappointed in that aspect of the game.”
While the Bluejays struggled to score, they flourished in most other aspects of the game.
An offense that rolled up 400 yards of total offense, and a defense that gave up just 190 yards to Bethel, left McCarty counting his blessings.
“No. 1, we are thankful we won,” he said. “No. 2, we’re thankful we’re moving the ball. But No. 3, we’re disappointed we’re not converting our drives into touchdowns.”
The game began like anything but a tense Tabor-Bethel rivalry.
After Bethel went four-and-out in its first possession, Tabor took over on its own 29-yard line with freshman Ricky Ishida filling in at quarterback for injured David Hernandez.
Ishida stepped in like a veteran, engineering an eight-play, 71-yard drive that ended with an Ishida three-yard pass to tight end Preston Neufeld with 12:43 to play in the first quarter.
“Preston actually adjusted his route based on the coverage, and Ricky stayed with him and threaded the ball in for the score,” McCarty said.
After Bethel went four-and-out again, Tyler Marsh returned the Thresher punt to the 46-yard line.
Ishida connected with Tyson Ratzlaff for 27 yards and the Bluejays drove all the way to the Thresher 10-yard line before the drive stalled.
Keenan Morris trotted on to attempt a 28-yard field goal, and nailed the kick to give Tabor a 10-0 lead with 4:20 to play.
The first quarter ended with Tabor again in possession of the ball, already having rolled up 127 yards compared to 13 for Bethel.
Tabor continued a 14-play drive that covered 64 yards and ran 4:34 off the clock, but it stalled at the 14-yard line.
Morris converted again on the field goal attempt, and Tabor held a modest 13-0 lead.
“We’ve got to be more physical when we get close to the goal line,” McCarty said. “We have guys who are standing up and absorbing some blocks.
“I think we’re becoming complacent,” he added. “We’re happy to be moving the ball and think that because we’re marching down the field, the other team is going to let us take it right into the end zone.”
Leading by 13 points, the Tabor defense once again forced a Thresher punt, which was returned 18 yards by Marsh, and Tabor began on the Bluejay 31-yard line.
But two plays later, Cameron Conant’s fumble was recovered by Bethel’s Dusty Herndon at the Bluejay 35-yard line.
The Tabor defense held the Threshers to a 42-yard field goal, cutting the lead to 13-3 with 6:13 to play in the half.
When Bethel got the ball back following a Tabor punt, the Threshers benefited from a pass-interference call to grab a first down at the Bluejay 38-yard line.
But a Rolando Garcia pass was intercepted by Robert Haude at the 20-yard line to end the threat with 2:47 to play in the half.
Ishida’s passing, combined with the hard-nosed running of Dwayne Cleaves, moved the ball inside the Thresher 20-yard line once more.
Following two short completions inside the 10, Tabor opted for another field goal attempt. But Morris’ kick sailed wide left from 21 yards out, and the half ended with Tabor on top, 13-3.
Five plays after Tabor punted away its first possession of the second half, Bethel’s Barron Phillips fumbled at the Bluejay 28-yard line, and Chad Hershberger recovered for Tabor.
The Bluejays drove to the 14 before a holding penalty pushed them back to the 24.
Facing first-and-20, Ishida threw a pass into the hands of Bethel’s Chad Unrau, again thwarting a Bluejay drive inside the 20-yard line.
When the Bluejays forced another Thresher punt, Tracy Wehrman burst up the middle and blocked the kick to give Tabor the ball on the Bethel 24 yard line.
“We actually had a return on (the punt),” McCarty said. “Tracy’s job is to make sure the punter kicks the ball, but no one blocked him, so he took a shot.
“The thing is, our motto is ‘big timers make big plays in big games, and risk takers make a difference,'” he added. “Tracy is a risk taker and he made a difference right there on that play.”
Tabor bulled its way to the Bethel 4 before running out of gas. This time, Morris’ field goal attempt was successful and the Bluejay led 16-3 with 3:35 to play in the third quarter.
Bethel came back with a 52-yard bomb down the sideline, giving them the ball at the Bluejay 24.
Two plays later, quarterback Victor Flores connected with Greg Enns for a 20-yard scoring strike. With the extra point, Tabor led by a touchdown, 16-10.
After the teams traded possessions, Tabor took over on their own 46-yard line with 10:37 to play, looking for some insurance.
Tabor managed to piece together an eight-play 51-yard drive which eventually stalled on the Bethel 4-yard line. Morris converted the field goal attempt from 21 yards out for the final margin of the game.
Two more possessions in the fourth quarter took Tabor inside the Bethel 20-yard line.
One possession ended with a Morris field-goal attempt that banged off the upright, and the other with expiration of time as the Bluejays ran out the clock.
“We were looking at things we did well,” McCarty said. “We rushed the ball well and we converted our third downs very well (six for 16). We felt good about that.”
Cleaves finished with his second 100-yard effort of the season, with 165 yards on 28 carries.
“Dwayne asked me after the game how he did and I told him, but he was disappointed because he didn’t score,” McCarty said.
Ishida had excellent numbers, also, according to McCarty. The freshman completed 16 of 27 passes for 224 yards.
“You could tell he was a little nervous, but for his first start and for a freshman, I was very pleased with his performance,” McCarty said.
“No doubt about it, Ricky can flat throw the ball,” he added. “He really thinks things through when he’s back there.”
Penalties continue to be a trouble spot for the Bluejays, who were assessed 10 for 86 yards.
“When an official makes a call, that’s just what they’re seeing,” McCarty said. “That’s their job.”
Marsh led all receivers with seven catches for 85 yards, returned two kickoffs for 32 yards, returned three punts for 29 yards and rushed the ball three times for 35 yards.
Marsh now has 3,500 all-purpose yards in his Tabor career.
Wehrman and Eli Kennedy led the Bluejays with six tackles each while Chad Duerksen recorded four tackles and 21/2 sacks.
“Chad was exhausted,” McCarty said. “He sure disrupts the other team’s offense.”
The Bluejays improved their season record to 3-0 and the their KCAC record to 2-0 with the win over Bethel-their third straight.
With the victory, the Bluejays’ senior class became the winningest of all time at Tabor.
Coming-Two-time defending KCAC champion Kansas Wesleyan is Tabor’s next opponent.
“This is going to be a huge game,” McCarty said. “They’re a great team and they’re bringing in all their former players to make as big a deal out of this as possible.
“We’re going to show them the respect they deserve, but we’re going to go in and execute and take care of business on our own,” he added. “We’re going to go there to win the ball game.”
Game time was originally set for 1:30 p.m. in Salina, but has since been changed to 7 p.m.