ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Tabor waltzed with confidence into Martin Stadium in Salina Saturday night and sent a Kansas Wesleyan homecoming crowd home disappointed after witnessing a 21-6 Bluejay victory.
The Bluejays, ranked 21st in the nation, improved their overall record to 4-0 and conference record to 3-0-and showed no signs of self-doubt in the process.
“Our sideline was always positive and kept each other up,” coach Mike Gardner said. “It goes back to the philosophy of being a team, bonding together and being a complete group.”
Early in the game, though, it appeared Kansas Wesleyan might have reason to celebrate.
Tabor was forced into a three-and-out on its first possession, giving the Coyotes the ball on their own 35-yard line.
Nine plays later, the Coyotes’ Miles Pitts nailed a 47-yard field goal, staking KW to a quick 3-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
Tabor’s second drive began on its own 30-yard line, but again the Bluejays had to punt.
This time, though, punter Brian Kimsey fumbled the snap and was engulfed by Coyotes at his own 23-yard line, igniting the Coyotes and their home crowd.
Wesleyan converted a fourth-and-3 from the 16-yard line, but Tabor’s defense eventually stiffened and forced another Pitts field goal, this time from 24 yards out. Wesleyan led 6-0 with 6:20 left in the quarter.
Gardner said the defensive stops ignited the Bluejays.
“We were down 6-0, but at no time did I feel any negative vibes, bad chemistry or anything like that from our guys,” he said. “Holding them to just two field goals was the biggest part of the entire football game.”
The first quarter ended with the Bluejays down by six points, but the game was about to change.
Tabor took control of the ball on its own 13-yard line to begin the second quarter and put together a 13-play, 87-yard drive.
A pass of 28 yards from Ricky Ishida to Jeff MacKinnon was the key play of the drive, which culminated with Ishida sneaking into the end zone from a yard out.
Kimsey’s kick split the uprights and Tabor had its first lead of the night.
The Bluejay defense stiffened on the Coyotes’ next drive, forcing another KW punt.
Ishida then connected with Roger Butler on a swing pass, and the running back outraced the defense for a 39-yard gain.
Five plays later, Ted Telemaque fumbled at the Coyote 20 yard line and KW recovered.
Once again, though, the Bluejay defense stood tall. Facing third-and-1 from the KW 29-yard line, Wesleyan coach Dave Dallas opted to run the ball twice. But Tabor stopped both plays cold, and took possession at the 29.
“That’s one of the best defensive performances I’ve seen here at Tabor in the last couple of years,” Gardner said. “Overall, we did a good job. We still have some things to work on that hurt us a little bit, but I thought that was a solid effort.”
Ben Brown and Butler moved the ball to the Coyote 10-yard line, but a penalty moved the ball back to the 16.
From there, a scrambling Ishida found tight end John Garcia alone in the back of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown strike.
Kimsey added the kick and Tabor led 14-6 with 3:19 left in the half- a lead they carried into the locker room at intermission.
After the Bluejay defense forced two more Coyote punts to begin the second half, Tabor’s offense went to work.
Taking possession on the Tabor 9-yard line, Ishida guided his team downfield primarily on his aerial connection with Layne Frick. The duo hooked up for gains of 15 and 12 yards before Ishida found Frick across the middle.
The Hillsboro junior then hauled in another Ishida pass at the Wesleyan 30-yard line, spun out of a tackle and ran in for a 50-yard touchdown with 7:09 to play in the third quarter. Tabor’s drive took eight plays, covered 91 yards, and gave the Jays a 21-6 lead.
“Layne Frick played a great game,” Gardner said of Frick’s eight catches for 141 yards. “That might have been the best game he’s played here. He stepped up and proved what he can do.”
Leading by 15 points, the Bluejay defense forced another Coyote punt that gave Tabor the ball on its own 15-yard line.
Tabor drove to the Coyote 38 before Jamie Yager picked off an Ishida pass at the Wesleyan 13.
Led by all-conference linebacker Jake Schenk, who finished with a team-high 11 tackles, Tabor’s defense stopped the Coyotes one more time.
“Jake did a nice job and our defensive line did a great job,” Gardner said. “We made some really good adjustments at halftime and I felt like my coaching staff did a great job.
“We were very multiple in the looks we gave them,” he added. “We had more pressure on their quarterback and that was part of our game plan-to force them to throw some balls a little bit quicker than they wanted to and to keep the ball out of their receivers’ hands.
“Our defensive backs showed good technique on the edge, too.”
After forcing another punt, the Bluejays drove 29 yards in nine plays, but Kimsey’s 36-yard field-goal attempt missed the mark and Tabor still led by 15 points with 9:06 to play.
After trading possessions, Kansas Wesleyan was in the midst of a last-gasp drive when freshman defensive lineman Jimmy Shipman got his paw on a Mike Pozzi pass, deflecting it into the hands of sophomore Luke Wiebe, ensuring the final score.
Tabor’s offense rolled up 429 total yards-294 through the air on 16-of-34 passing by Ishida.
“I can’t say enough about our offensive line and our running backs,” Gardner said. “Coaches (Mike) Miller and (Dave) Kroeker did a great job again and coaches (LaVon) Smith and (Sean) Spoonts do a great job of making adjustments and getting this team prepared.”
Gardner said a vital cog in the Bluejay development is role players fulfilling their roles.
“Steven (Chisholm) and Dan Raines stepped in when we got some people hurt and did a great job,” he said. “I was very proud of those guys.”
Overall, Gardner said he was pleased, but hopes his team will develop more of a killer attitude.
“We need to keep improving, but we need to find a way to finish people off rather than letting them stick around and giving them hope,” he said.
Tabor’s offense accumulated 22 first downs to 14 for KW. The Bluejay defense limited the Coyotes to 242 yards of total offense.
“We gave up a couple of big plays, or we might have held them to under 200 total yards,” Gardner said.
Tabor limited its penalties (seven for 63 yards) and controlled time of possession (38:46).
“It’s nice to have a group of guys that works so well together,” Gardner said. “It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s a game on the road or at home-a game is a game and we’ll take the victory.”
Coming-Tabor will entertain Friends University (2-1, 2-1) for homecoming on Saturday.
Game time at Reimer Field is 2 p.m.