Tabor runs over Coyotes to open title defense

After 30 minutes of football Saturday night at Salina, 19th-ranked Tabor College looked like anything but a Top-20 team.

Thirty minutes later, the defending Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference champions were shining like a new penny, and owned a convincing 32-13 win over the Coyotes.

Tabor coach Mike Gardner said he was not surprised by his team’s lethargic performance in the first half.

“We didn’t scrimmage, we don’t get as much practice time as other teams in the country and we didn’t have a preseason game before this one,” he said.

Tabor received the opening kick, but was forced to punt four plays later.

As insignificant as that may seem, the punt did affirm that the Bluejays have filled the void of losing All-KCAC special teams punter Brian Kimsey. Freshman Mike Skvor crushed a 48-yard kick into a stiff south wind.

With 8:20 left in the quarter the Bluejays began their first scoring drive of the season.

That drive, which eventually covered 63 yards in nine plays, was highlighted by pass receptions of 20 yards by Layne Frick and 23 yards by Jeff MacKinnon.

Roger Butler capped the drive from two yards out and Tabor took a 7-0 lead with 3:25 left in the quarter.

But Wesleyan answered on its next possession, which began on the Coyote 35-yard line.

The two-minute scoring drive, aided by 31 yards in Bluejay penalties, culminated when Jerod Barrett broke into the secondary and scored from 31 yards out with 2:06 to play in the quarter.

That’s the way the score remained into the second quarter, when the Coyotes were forced to punt into the wind, giving Tabor great field position at the Wesleyan 49-yard line.

This time, Kansas Wesleyan aided the Bluejay’s cause as tempers caused one penalty to turn into two, resulting in a 25-yard gain for Tabor and the ball placed at the Coyote 10-yard line.

From there, Butler took care of the first five yards and Ricky Ishida connected with T.J. Jackson for the final five yards and a touchdown.

Although Marcus Manny’s extra-point kick sailed to the right, Tabor took a 13-7 lead that held up until halftime.

Once in the locker room, Gardner said he tried to use common sense to calm the anxiety of his team.

“I simply told the guys I knew the reason we weren’t doing very well, and that was because we hadn’t had a game under the lights and it was the first 30 minutes of football we had really played,” he said.

“Kansas Wesleyan had a scrimmage with themselves, they had a scrimmage against Saint Mary and they had more practice time than we did.”

Apparently, the Bluejays took Gardner’s words to heart as the team looked exactly like a Top-20 team in the second half.

It began when return specialist Caleb Marsh took the second-half kickoff and returned it 36 yards to the Bluejay 45.

From there, it was guts and will power as Butler and running mate Ben Brown combined to cover all 55 yards in just seven plays. Butler capped the effort with his second touchdown of the night, this time from 15 yards out.

Tabor’s attempt at a 2-point conversion failed, but the Bluejays had established momentum with 19-7 lead and 11:45 to play in the third quarter.

Taking a cue from the offense, the Bluejay defense answered the call on Wesleyan’s first possession of the half, stopping the Coyotes on three plays that resulted in an 11-yard loss.

Taking over on its own 41-yard line, Tabor wasted little time adding to its advantage.

A 20-yard perfectly executed screen play from Ishida to Butler gobbled up 20 yards before Ishida hit Marsh over the middle on a third-and-8 for another 20-yard gain. Marsh somehow held on to the ball after absorbing a punishing hit on the 5-yard line.

From there, it took Butler just two carries to pound his way into the end zone for his third score of the night and a 26-7 Tabor lead with just under seven minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Gardner said Butler, a 5-foot, 9-inch 200-pound senior from Hanford, Calif., is as tough as they come.

“Roger Butler is the epitome of tough,” Gardner said. “That kid can play for me anytime, anywhere and any day.

“His experience at Tabor College has been a life-changing experience,” he added. “He came here from a background that’s tough and he’s overcome and persevered that and I’m very, very happy for Roger.”

Butler, meanwhile, echoed the sentiments of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz: there’s no place like his home away from home.

“I missed Tabor College and it’s a beautiful feeling to be back here,” Butler said. “Back home there’s a lot of trouble, but being back here with the whole family environment and being at Tabor is great.

“Everyone is loving and caring out here and it’s just a wonderful feeling to be back.”

Trailing by 19 points, Wesleyan compounded its woes on the ensuing kickoff when Brandon Clemmons coughed up the ball and the Bluejays pounced on on it at the Wesleyan 36.

Four plays later, Ishida hooked up with freshman wideout Sage Hemmert across the middle and the WaKeeney native bolted into the end zone from 24 yards out.

The kick again failed, but Tabor was in control, 32-7, with just over five minutes left in the quarter.

After Tabor again stymied KW’s offense, the Bluejays took over. But Ishida was intercepted over the middle by Andy Bristow at the Wesleyan 44.

The Coyotes then pieced together a six-play drive that ended on a 34-yard scamper into the end zone by Darrel Grames to cut the lead to 32-13 with only seconds left in the third quarter.

Brown and Butler spent the fourth quarter punishing the Coyote defense. Butler finished the game with 158 yards on 32 carries, his fourth career 100-yard game.

When Brown wasn’t paving the way for his teammate, he picked up 69 yards in 10 carries.

Butler said his yardage was not an individual performance.

“The guys blocked well for me and I wouldn’t have gotten many of those yards without my O-line and the receivers-it was a team effort,” Butler said. “And Ben Brown is one real tough boy-he’s steel. That’s what I call him, my steel man.”

When the final horn sounded, Tabor owned its fourth straight win over the Coyotes, a solid 19-point win over a dangerous Kansas Wesleyan team.

“We beat a very good KW team,” Gardner said. “Am I satisfied with how we played? I don’t know about that, but I’m satisfied with the way our kids handled themselves and played hard and didn’t lose their cool.”

The Bluejay offense rolled up 449 total yards, including 229 on the ground.

Kansas Wesleyan managed only 227 yards of total offense, with 76 coming through the air.

Ishida completed only 17 of 41 passes, but tallied 220 yards. He connected with eight different receivers.

One blight on the night was Tabor’s 16 penalties for 156 yards.

Defensively, the Bluejays were led by Tim Steven and Tevita Kolokihakafisi, who both registered seven tackles. Robert Haude, Brent Overmiller and Jake Schenk had six tackles each and Kansas Wesleyan transfer Alex Wallace recorded two quarterback sacks.

With the win-the 100th in school history- Tabor opens the season and KCAC play with an 1-0 record.

“Our biggest concern after one game is our pass defense,” Gardner said. “We rallied to the ball well, but we have to do a better job of shutting down the short stuff.”

Coming-Tabor will play at Colorado Springs Saturday in a game against Colorado College. The kickoff is set for 2 p.m., Hillsboro time.

“We’ll need some good conditioning,” Gardner said of the jaunt to the Rocky Mountains. “We have to get some dings and bruises worked out before that game, but we’ll be OK.”

Bluejay fans can listen to a live broadcast of the game through a link on the Tabor College Web site:

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