ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
For the first 30 minutes of Saturday’s football game between No. 19 Tabor College and Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Pike’s Peak may not have been the most majestic sight in the area.
That’s because the Bluejay offense played to near perfection in the first half on the way to a 45-9 halftime lead.
Coach Mike Gardner may have likened the opening half to a John Denver ballad-a Rocky Mountain High.
“I don’t know if we can play much better offensively than we did in the first half of this game,” Gardner said of his team’s eventual 66-30 triumph. “I suppose, realistically, we could but that’s just about as good a first half of offensive football performance as I’ve ever seen.”
As with any well-oiled machine, Gardner said the sum of the parts was greater than the individual pieces as his team which scored the first six times it touched the football.
“We had great execution and great play calling,” he said. “We were able to run and pass the ball efficiently.”
And it started early.
Beginning on its own 25-yard line, Tabor pushed the ball down the Tigers’ collective throat with an 11-play drive capped by a Roger Butler two-yard plunge. Marcus Manny kicked the point-after for 7-0 lead.
The Tabor defense then took over and allowed the Tigers only four yards on three plays, forcing a punt.
The Bluejays were whistled for an illegal block on the return, but worse field position made little difference.
Starting at its 22, Tabor gobbled up yardage until Ben Brown bit off the final 44 yards on a bruising run up the middle to put Tabor on top 14-0 following the PAT.
Gardner said the Tiger defense was no match for his punishing running backs, Butler and Brown.
“They really just ran through a lot of tackles,” Gardner said. “(Colorado College) is fairly young on defense, but our guys did a really great job of hitting the point of attack and running hard and running behind their pads.”
A 36-yard kickoff return gave the Tigers good field position on their own 42, leading to a 31-yard field goal that cut the lead to 14-3 with 3:40 left in the first quarter.
After Aaron Jenkins returned the kickoff to the Bluejay 30-yard line, quarterback Ricky Ishida engineered a six-play scoring drive. Butler covered the final nine yards to stake Tabor to a 21-3 lead following the PAT.
On the Tigers’ next possession, linebacker Jake Schenk sacked quarterback Chris Neal on first down, setting up a passing situation. Facing third and 16, Neal was intercepted by linebacker Tyler McKim, allowing Tabor to set up shop on the Tiger 29.
Ishida hit Layne Frick for 16 of those yards and, three plays later, Butler blasted into the end zone for a 28-3 Tabor lead just 30 seconds into the second quarter.
Unable to get any offense generated, Colorado College punted to Tabor on its next possession giving the Bluejays possession on its own 34-yard line.
Ishida hit Jenkins for 24 yards before the drive stalled. But Manny nailed a 30-yard field goal to put Tabor on top 31-3.
Gardner said depth began taking a toll on the Tigers.
“Defensively, they were young,” he said. “They didn’t have the numbers on their lines that we had, and depth played a huge role in our win.”
On the Tigers’ next possession, a botched fake punt was stopped by defensive end Alex Wallace, giving Tabor the ball only 24 yards from paydirt.
In four plays, Butler scored again, this time from 13 yards out for a 38-3 bulge with 7:12 left in the half.
Colorado College did manage a nice 80-yard, seven-play drive that cut the Bluejay lead to 38-9, but Tabor answered with an eight-play, 30-yard drive that was set up by a fumbled punt and capped by Ishida’s two-yard touchdown dive.
In addition to posting a 45-9 lead, by halftime Tabor had rolled up 396 yards of offense. Brown had 113 rushing yards and Butler had 87 yards and four touchdowns.
Ishida connected on 13 of 21 passes for 197 yards, including five strikes to Frick for 68 yards.
Simply stated, Gardner said, “We played very well in the first half.”
Although a case of too little too late, Colorado College managed an 11-play, 69-yard scoring drive to start the second half, to cut Tabor’s lead to 45-16.
“The opening drive of the half was the most disappointing part of the game for me,” Gardner said. “I thought coming out we were focused and we had talked about finishing and taking care of business.”
After an exchange of possessions, Gardner began wholesale substitutions on both sides of the ball.
Backup quarterback Ben Schmidt picked up where Ishida left off, engineering a nine-play, 57-yard drive. He covered the final 14 yards himself to put Tabor on top, 52-16.
After Brent Overmiller recovered a Tiger fumble, Schmidt again piloted the Bluejays downfield and scored his second touchdown of the day on a two-yard plunge for a 59-16 lead.
For Gardner, Schmidt’s performance was not a surprise.
“He came in and did everything right,” Gardner said of the junior from Goessel. “He knows the reads and understands the offense. We couldn’t ask for a better No. 2 guy than Ben.”
Just moments later, a fumble return by Tabor’s Josh Tuitupou down to the Tiger 4-yard line set up Tabor’s final score. Freshman quarterback Martin Morales slipped into the end zone from one yard out to put Tabor ahead, 66-16.
Lacking depth, Colorado College played first- and second-string players against Tabor reserves. Two late scores made the final tally 66-30.
Tabor’s 66 points set a new school record for points in a game, eclipsing the previous record of 57.
For the game, the Bluejays rolled up 27 first downs and 571 yards of total offense which represents the second most total yardage in a single game in school history.
Brown’s 113 yards on just eight carries led all Bluejay rushers while Butler added 96 yards on 19 carries and four touchdowns which tied a school record for rushing TD’s in a game (Bay Lawrence and Jeff Fikjes).
Ishida and Schmidt combined to hit 20 of 30 passes for 281 yards, connecting with 10 receivers.
Defensively, Andy Bartell posted nine tackles and Schenk six.
“I thought Colorado College was a good team and very well coached offensively,” Gardner said. “This was a nice win for us and a good confidence booster.”
Coming-With the win, Tabor improves to 2-0 and will return to KCAC play next Saturday with a 7 p.m. showdown with rival Bethel College (0-2) at Reimer Field.
“Bethel College is very well coached, they have a good offensive line, their running backs are in the top of the conference, their quarterback does a great job with play action and defensively they’re very disciplined,” Gardner said.
“Their record does not indicate how good they really are.”